A child's best interests should always come first in cross-border EU cases regarding custody, familial breakdown or other child welfare issues, according to EPP Group Members of the Committee on Petitions.
Protecting the best interests of the child in cross-border separations
"There are an increasing number of multinational families in Europe, where each parent comes from a different Member State. If that relationship ends, these families need support and clear rules especially when it comes to the custody and habitual residence of any children.”
"Our citizens see the European Parliament, and it's Petitions' Committee, as a platform for their voices to be heard – a place where they can seek redress and where they are listened to. It is true that we cannot solve many of the complex legal issues around family breakdown and children's issue.
If a multinational relationship ends, these families need support and clear rules, especially when it comes to the custody and habitual residence of any children Roberta Metsola
However, as citizens' representatives, our goal must always be to protect the best interests of our citizens, in particular the children," said Roberta Metsola MEP.
MEP Metsola's comments follow a recent European Parliament majority vote in favour of a Resolution on Safeguarding Children's Best Interests in Europe, tabled by the Petitions Committee after an EPP-led initiative.
Greater public awareness of the complex issues involved in such cross-border custodial cases, including clarity on parental and children's rights in each country, is needed Mairead McGuinness
While matters of family law are a Member State competence, the European Commission is currently reviewing the Brussels II regulation on family law. The review is an opportunity to close legal loopholes, and better protect children in Europe, according to the MEPs.
"Greater public awareness of the complex issues involved in such cross-border custodial cases, including clarity on parental and children's rights in each country, is needed. National service improvements could help better protect the best interests of the child, under the watchful eye of the EU," said European Parliament Vice-President and Children's Rights Mediator, Mairead McGuinness MEP.
Swifter processing of cross-border custodial cases
MEP McGuinness also called for a reinforcement and earlier use of mediation in such cases, to prevent adversarial tension in protracted court cases.
"In the case of child abduction, I would also appeal to national authorities to ensure that return orders are implemented in a timely manner in order to avoid undue disruption to the life of the child and ensure that the child is returned to his/her home as quickly as possible to prevent any additional distress," McGuinness added.
I would also appeal to national authorities to ensure that return orders are implemented in a timely manner in order to avoid undue disruption to the life of the child and to prevent any additional distress Mairead McGuinness
The Parliamentary Resolution calls for a swifter processing of such multinational, cross-border custody cases via specialised court chambers within national family court systems or with the help of mediation bodies.
The MEPs further highlighted that children have a right to regular and direct contact with parents in cross-border custodial cases, unless there is a risk to their safety. Member States should, therefore, ensure visitation rights are upheld during proceedings. Every effort should also be made to avoid separating siblings in forced placement cases.
Culturally, the importance of giving children the opportunity to maintain links with their backgrounds and to learn and use their mother tongue language was noted.
Finally, the EU-wide legal recognition of adoption decisions must be provided for, in order to avoid bureaucratic difficulties.