Cross-border divorces: focus on the interest of the child

“Besides placement in a foster family or care institution, judges should have the possibility to entrust a child to other members of the family or relatives with whom a child has established relations. Siblings should not be divided. In cases where a child is entrusted to a foster family abroad, Member States should provide for continuity in the child's upbringing and in his or her ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background. The parents should be allowed to visit their child on a regular basis. These are among the main changes proposed by the European Parliament to the Brussels IIa Regulation which sets the rules on jurisdiction, the recognition and enforcement of decisions in matrimonial matters, matters of parental responsibility, and on international child abduction”, explained Tadeusz Zwiefka MEP, Vice-Chairman of the EPP Group and author of the Report.

The Regulation sets the procedural rules in cases such as entrusting custody of a child when parents separate or divorce, contacts with a child, appointing persons or institutions responsible for the child's property and representing him/her, and placing a child in a foster family or in a care institution. It also regulates the proceedings in the case of child abduction by one of the parents. The Regulation applies to international couples or couples who live in a different Member State than their own.

“The key issue of the proposed changes is to allow the child to express his or her views when he/she is the subject of a dispute between the parents. The courts will be free to decide whether or not the child should be heard, but any decision not to hear the child in a trial must be duly justified. We also propose to establish a general guideline for the hearing: it should be conducted without any pressure from the interested parties, under conditions which take into account the child’s age, maturity, language etc, so as to guarantee the emotional integrity and the best of the child's well-being”, continued Zwiefka.

In cases of parental abductions, the Rapporteur subscribed to the European Commission’s initial proposals to shorten the time of proceedings. “In cases where a child is abducted by one of his or her parents to a different country, the Member State will have a maximum of 18 weeks to pass judgment: this means 6 weeks to gather and exchange information between the authorities involved and the court, 6 weeks to work on the case and 6 weeks for a potential appeal, which is allowed only once. There is also a limit of 6 weeks for an enforcement of the decision in another Member State”, stressed Zwiefka.

“All changes proposed by the Parliament insist on the individual approach to each case and focus on the child’s best interest. Judges should have access, in the shortest possible time, to full information about the child and people requesting to take care of the child. The adequate institutions in each Member State have a duty to provide such information. Only then will it be possible to establish what is best for the child after the collapse of the parents’ relationship”, he concluded.

The European Parliament is giving its opinion today on the issue. The Council will have its final say in the unanimity procedure.

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The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 217 Members from 27 Member States

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