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Society

New Greek Custody Law Puts Children at Risk, Rights Group Says

September 19, 2021

Children will be in danger of domestic violence under a law in Greece that has gone into effect and sets conditions for custody, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, urging the New Democracy government which set it to make changes.

In May, as it was before the Parliament controlled by the ruling Conservatives, HRW said the legislation giving divorced parents an equal say in child-raising didn't take into consideration how it could jeopardize women and children and victims of domestic violence.

It said the changes “Contravene international law, which requires that custody determinations be based on assessment of the best interests of the individual child, and do not ensure sufficient protections for domestic abuse victims and their children.”

While applauding the idea of co-parenting, a presumption of shared custody “ignores the dangerous reality for domestic abuse victims – overwhelmingly women – and their children,” said Hillary Margolis, HRW Senior Women’s Rights Researcher.

Now that it's being implemented, HRW said it should be modified to safeguard children who might be at risk in a shared custody agreement, recommending courts be allowed to approve “joint and equal” parental custody.

“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 Margolis.

“The law needs to be amended to prevent putting women and children at unnecessary risk,” she said, because it could put children and violence of domestic survivors in the path of abusers, even risking their lives.

“Abusers may also use child custody arrangements to harm victims physically, psychologically, or through economic pressure, or to deter them from leaving a relationship. Women in Greece already face multiple barriers, including victim-blaming and dismissive police response, to reporting domestic violence and seeking help,” the group said.

Under the new law, a court may curtail the right to custody if a parent is “in breach of their duty to care” for a child or “if they are abusive or unable to comply” with custodial responsibilities, HRW said.

But it added that “the legal process to determine whether a parent has been abusive can take years, during which an allegedly abusive parent could maintain co-custody and communication with the child and co-parent.”

In cases of “imminent danger” to a child’s mental or physical health, a prosecutor can take immediate protection measures for up to 90 days, potentially renewable for 90 days, during which time the case should be brought before a court. However, the law makes no specific mention of measures to protect victims of intimate partner abuse or their children in cases of co-custody.

The law gives priority to the right of a parent and relatives to communicate with a children, including in person, and presumes that the child should spend no less than one-third of their time with the parent they don’t live with, even if someone is an abuser, said HRW.

The group said the law should be amended “to ensure that it protects the lives and health of parents and children in line with international law including through meaningful protections for domestic violence victims and their children.” There was no sign that would happen so far.

“This law will force women experiencing domestic violence and their children into prolonged contact with their abusers, exactly the opposite of the protection and support they need when leaving an abusive relationship,” Margolis said. “To respect the best interests of children, the Greek government should change its law so that child custody doesn’t play into the hands of abusers.”

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