Greece: Dangerous custody law to take effect

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A law scheduled to take effect on September 16, 2021, that amends child custody provisions in Greece’s civil code places women and children survivors of domestic violence at risk, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Greek government should take steps to immediately modify the law to ensure that protection of domestic abuse survivors and the principle of the best interests of the child are properly safeguarded, in line with international human rights obligations.

Law No. 4800/2021, “Reforms regarding parent-child relations, other family law issues, and other urgent provisions,” presumes that “joint and equal” parental custody of children is in the child’s best interest in cases of divorce, separation, or termination of cohabitation. In cases of “poor exercise of parental responsibility,” which may include domestic violence, a court can make an alternate custody determination in the child’s best interest, but “joint and equal” custody applies during a potentially lengthy court process, placing domestic abuse victims and their children directly at risk.

“A child’s best interests have to prioritize safety and security, and a presumption of equal shared custody puts domestic abuse survivors – the vast majority of whom are women – and their children in direct danger,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The law needs to be amended to prevent putting women and children at unnecessary risk.”

Parliament approved the bill on May 20, 156 to 20. In an unusual break from party allegiance, two members of the ruling New Democracy party opposed the law. Opponents also included expert bodies such as the National Commission for Human Rights, and international and regional human rights bodies.

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