New Greek law seeks to enforce joint custody on families

The new draft law’s measures threaten to worsen the situation for the children and partners stuck in abusive households

For the past few months, public debates in Greece have been preoccupied with a well-advertised reform of family law since 1983 that will regulate the relations between parents and children in cases of divorce, custody and guardianship.

In April 2020, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Tsiaras, set up a legislative committee to form a draft which, in its guidelines and instructions, emphasized on the best interest of the child, as defined by the international treaties that safeguard the rights of the child, as well as by the Greek Constitution.

However, the outcome of the committee did not satisfy a minority and as a result extreme pressure was put on the Ministry of Justice by powerful economic lobbies such as “Active Dads”, “Joint-Custody Association” and other father’s rights groups to completely alter the draft law. In the meantime, these lobbies spent an enormous amount of media propaganda on presenting the change of family law as essential for Greek Society. As a result, this non-disclosed draft law was drafted without the participation of the members of the above-mentioned committee and without consultation and publicity.

The new “draft law” was presented in the media through interviews of the Minister of Justice, news articles and the presentation of the positions of the lobbies. On 24 February 2021, the Minister of Justice presented the draft law to the Ministers’ Committee and the implementation was approved.

The “innovation” of this new draft law “reform of Family Law”  imposes a model of obligatory joint-custody between parents

This decision will mostly impact how children are raised after divorce, since they have to be taken in by both parents even if they disagree. Under the new system, the judge of the Greek courts does not have the right to examine each case by taking into consideration the personality of the parents, the age of the child, the geographic distance between parents residences, the bonds that the child has created with each parent and other matters that are essential in family court. On the contrary, the judge will be obliged to impose the joint custody between parents and distribute duties to them regarding the “management-raising” of the child.

In the current Greek legal system that is considered to be of the most child-centered systems in Europe, joint custody already exists and parents are free to select it if they wish to do so. The existing joint custody presupposes an agreement of the parties which cannot be imposed by law. In cases of disagreement between parents that are on obligatory joint custody either no decisions will not be made for the children or the children will obey to two regimes with the visible risk of being destabilised.

Intense objections to the new draft law has been expressed by many involved parties — mainly feminist movements, organisations for the well being of children, professors of law schools, lawyers, judges, and scientists. The main objection is concentrated on the fact that this reform will not solve the distortions such as the slow dispense of justice of the current system. On the contrary, the new legal framework will be a minefield due to its extreme and conservative provisions in the Greek society, since the result will be dangerous for both children and women.

After a divorce, children will be forced to divide their time equally between the two parents, no matter their familial circumstances

This means that children will have two lives, homes, schools and be treated as luggage. Taking this in consideration, why would this new law be established?

The main reason for the strong support from the father’s rights groups joint the fact that the equally time joint-custody will take away the monthly child support (alimony) and replace it with directly paid maintenance. Rather than handing over a fixed sum in advance to the other partner,  parents will pay for children’s needs as and when they arise. Court decisions that have been taken in the last decades will be overturned with this new regime.

The most frightening part of the new law is that there are no exemptions in the case of domestic violence, since the abusive parent (only to the child and not the other parent) is banned to communicate to the child only after a final court decision of the supreme court (9-13 years after the conduct of the criminal behavior i.e. in case of child sexual abuse). In contrast, in other European countries such as Italy even the assumption of abuse and/or violence serves as a reason for a ban in the communication. In the case of domestic violence, this law will mean that the child and the other parent will be unable to escape the violent situations for many years.

In the case of an abusive relationship, this draft law does not only impact the children but also the other partner

It would  prevent women from escaping from abusive partners, as it makes it even more difficult both to report such a partner and have the custody of their children guaranteed to protect the child. Obstacles for women facing violence would simply multiply, including from an economic perspective, since this law is questioning the fundamental idea of divorce.

The draft law claims to tackle the so-called ‘parental alienation syndrome’, a controversial theory that one parent can manipulate the couple’s children to reject the other parent. Developed by American psychiatrist Richard Gardner in the 1980s, the theory is not backed up by research and has been criticised for placing abused women and children at further risk by allowing violent fathers to manipulate custody battles and insist upon continued access.

The new law imposes private mediation (without the intervention of state psychiatrists and social services) at the early stage of separation and would certainly be very damaging if applied in certain cases, such as in those of domestic abuse. If the proposed reforms become law — the expense of a divorce, together with mediation costs and the threat of having to move house, could effectively discourage lower-income couples from seeking a divorce.

The burden could be especially heavy for women who depend on their husbands economically, as many in Greece do. It is noted that in the past years, domestic violence in Greece has increased significantly. Women are targeted more as a result of the economic crisis and they also face dismissal due to motherhood, less job opportunities due to motherhood and negative impact of telework. At the same time, the sharing of parental responsibilities by men at the Greek households in everyday activities (cleaning, cooking etc) remains slow.

The new draft law should be cancelled by the Government since it expresses a conversative and extreme philosophy

Without acknowledging the particularities of families and the needs and desires of children, there can be no suitable divorce arrangements. DiEM25’s Taskforce for Feminism, Diversity and Disabilities has been working on the pressing issue of domestic violence due to the increase of this silent threat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Fani Giotaki is Attorney At Law, Member of the Committee of Family Law.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect DiEM25’s official policies or positions.

Photo Source: Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

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