Greece’s disputed joint custody legislation goes earlier than parliament

Issued on: 19/05/2021 – 14:26Modified: 19/05/2021 – 14:25

Athens (AFP)

Divorced fathers in Greece have put their hopes in new laws granting them the same time as their children, but the proposed change is facing a violent backlash against fears of domestic violence.

Supporters say the bill, debated by MPs on Wednesday, a day before the vote, corrects an injustice in a country where custody is granted to mothers in almost all cases.

However, opposition parties and right-wing groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, argue that they ignore the risk of domestic violence and put victims at risk.

Active Dads for the Rights of the Child, an organization set up since the beginning of the pandemic, campaigned for parliament to approve the change in law.

One of its founders, Dionysis Logothetis, 50, said the lockdown made the situation worse for fathers.

Many divorced fathers have been banned from visits due to Covid restrictions and have not been able to see their children for many months, said the doctor and father of two.

The detention “was often used as an excuse to keep the child away from either parent,” he added, saying that very often it was the father.

In most cases, the court granted divorced fathers limited visiting rights, which amounted to two weekends a month and a few hours a week.

The Conservative New Democracy government instigated the joint custody bill, saying it aims to “protect the child’s best interests” after a divorce.

Feminist groups, human rights and leftist organizations and opposition parties fear, however, that the obligation to share custody could endanger the safety of mothers and children.

They point to “patriarchal” structures in Greek society and a lack of social services.

Dozens of people protested the bill in front of the Greek parliament late Tuesday.

– The current social situation –

“The automatic establishment of joint custody puts the child’s interests at risk,” said Sofia Koukouli-Spiliotopoulou, an expert on family law.

The reform puts more emphasis on parents than on the child, she added.

Amnesty International’s Esther Major also said that “any custody bill should be based on the best interests and safety of the child”.

“It is bitter irony that Greece is considering adopting this amendment just days after the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention,” she said in a press release.

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However, Dimitris Douliotis, attorney and member of Active Dads, said that “despite the introduction of gender equality 40 years ago in Greece, more than 90 percent of court decisions grant custody to mothers”.

“The bill has to take into account the current social situation,” he argued.

“Today’s fathers are much more willing than before to take care of their children.”

– Women, children at risk –

Greece is at the bottom of the European Union’s gender equality index.

In January, the country was shocked by a series of testimonies of sexual assault when it witnessed its own #MeToo movement.

And according to the feminist To Mov movement, “the bill threatens to exacerbate the situation of women and their children,” as it could grant custody to any attacker before they are convicted.

Human Rights Watch’s Hillary Margolis urged “Parliament to oppose these alarming changes.”

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“The goal is to achieve joint custody, but it ignores the reality of domestic violence victims,” ​​she warned.

In a letter to the EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, MEPs from Greece’s main opposition party, Syriza, described the bill as “incompatible with the European Parliament’s report on domestic violence and custody”.

However, the active fathers group insists that domestic violence is a criminal justice issue and “must not interfere with parental care”.

“It is not possible that 90 percent of divorced fathers in Greece are violent,” said Logothetis.

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