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Cross-border family disputes: new proposals to protect children

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Cross-border family disputes: new proposals to protect children

By Albedo-ukr

(BRUSSELS) - New proposals covering cross-border parental responsibility disputes were set out by the European Commission Thursday, relating to custody, access rights and child abduction.

Cross-border disputes on family matters have increased in the EU in line with the rising number of international families, which is now estimated at 16 million and increasing. The number of international divorces now reaches some 140,000 per year in the EU. The number of children born to unmarried international couples has also increased; and there are annually up to 1,800 cases of parental child abduction within the EU.

The new rules will speed up the legal and administrative proceedings and ensure that the child's best interest is always taken into account, says the Commission.

When families have disputes or international couples separate, cross-border judicial cooperation can give children a secure legal environment to maintain relations with both parents (and guardians) who may live in different European countries.

"When these disputes end in legal proceedings with a cross-border dimension, the EU has a responsibility to ensure that they are settled as smoothly and efficiently as possible," said EC Commissioner Frans Timmermans. "The simplified new rules we have adopted will bring benefits for families and children. They will gain from reduced timelines for settling proceedings and will avoid the heavy financial costs often linked to such procedures. We need to make sure that different legal regimes are compatible to minimise complications, delays, distress and uncertainty," he added.

The updated rules are based on the assessment of the existing rules and aim to remedy the identified shortcomings. In particular, a key objective is to ensure quicker overall procedures given that time is of the essence in order to protect the best interests of the child in these cross-border parental responsibility disputes. More specifically, the following targeted changes are proposed:

  • More efficient procedures to tackle cross-border parental child abduction
  • Ensuring the child is heard
  • Rapid enforcement of decisions in other Member States
  • Improving cooperation between Member States' authorities

These new rules will bring benefits to families and children, says the Commission. They will gain from reduced timelines for solving proceedings and will avoid the heavy costs usually linked to such procedures. For example, in case of return proceedings, parents will have clearer rules and will be encouraged to engage in mediation, saving possible litigation costs which represent € 2,200 on average for the entire proceedings. Abolishing exequatur proceedings will help save from around € 1,100 to 4,000 per case in some Member States. In addition, speedier enforcement will allow families to save money for the work of a specialised lawyer estimated, depending on the Member State, at between € 1,000 and 4,000 per every additional 10 working hours.

The Brussels IIa Regulation is the cornerstone of EU judicial cooperation in matrimonial matters and matters of parental responsibility, including custody, access rights and child abduction. It serves to settle conflicts of jurisdiction between Member States and facilitates the free circulation of judgments in the EU by laying down provisions on their recognition and enforcement in another Member State. In cases of cross-border parental child abduction, it sets out a procedure for the return of the child to the Member State of his or her habitual residence. The Regulation has entered into application on 1 March 2005 and it is applied in all Member States except Denmark.

The proposal will now be sent to the Council of the EU. The decision in the Council is taken at unanimity, under the special legislative procedure for judicial cooperation in family matters (Article 81(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The European Parliament will be consulted on the proposal.

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