Greece adopted on Thursday a controversial family law that awards joint custody of children to divorced parents, despite the opposition of several human rights groups and opposition parties.
The law was voted in Parliament’s plenary by the ruling New Democracy party, while all other parties opposed it either by vote or by walking out during a roll-call vote for two articles.
The two controversial articles — on joint and equal custody and on time allotted for the child to communicate with the parent not living with him or her — were approved solely by New Democracy votes. Two party MPs who had expressed specific objections early on and called for improvements voted against it.
Among concerns raised by MPs over articles 7 and 13 were that the child’s interests were not taken into account, that sharing custody equally between parents did not recognize the parent who shouldered the burden of raising the child, and that custody should be awarded by special family courts.
Family law “puts women and children at risk”
The new family law was heavily criticized by rights organizations, which claim that it is putting women and children at risk.
The proposed changes would permit courts to curtail parental communication with a child when there is “bad or abusive exercise” of this right or revoke custodial rights if a parent is unable to comply with obligations, or performs this function abusively.
However, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) says, such rulings must be final or issued by the Supreme Court, a legal process that can take years, during which an allegedly abusive parent could maintain co-custody and communication with the child and co-parent.
In cases of “imminent danger” to a child’s mental and physical health, a prosecutor can take immediate protection measures and then has 90 days to bring the case to court. The bill makes no specific mention of abuse of one parent by another, or measures to protect victims of intimate partner abuse in cases of co-custody.
Such omissions in the law could force women and their children into ongoing contact with abusers and create opportunities for further harm.
Family law “contravenes international law”
In a statement, the organization claimed that the new family law changes contravene international law, which requires that custody determinations be based on assessment of the best interests of the individual child, and do not ensure sufficient protections for domestic abuse victims and their children, Human Rights Watch said.
“Equal co-parenting is a laudable goal, but a blanket presumption of 50-50 child custody ignores the dangerous reality for domestic abuse victims – overwhelmingly women – and their children,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The Greek Parliament should put the safety of children and abuse victims first and reject these alarming changes.”
Expert organizations in Greece have criticized the bill’s fundamental presumption universally equating the child’s best interests with parents’ equal participation in the child’s upbringing, rather than requiring case-by-case determinations.
The groups included the Hellenic Society of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Family Law Society, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, the Lawyers Committee on Legal Issues of Co-Custody, the gender equality organization Diotima, and Refugee Support Aegean.