Greece's disputed joint custody law goes before parliament

·3-min read

Divorced fathers in Greece have their hopes pinned on new legislation granting them equal time with their children, but the proposed change faces a fierce backlash over domestic violence fears.

Supporters say the bill -- being discussed by MPs on Wednesday, a day before it is due to be voted on -- corrects an injustice in a country where mothers are granted custody in almost all cases.

But opposition parties and rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, argue that it disregards the risk of domestic violence and could endanger victims.

Set up since the start of the pandemic, the Active Dads for the Rights of the Child organisation has campaigned for parliament to approve the legal change.

One of its founders Dionysis Logothetis, 50, said that lockdown had compounded the situation for fathers.

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

Confinement "has often been used as a pretext to keep the child away from one of the two parents", he added, saying that very often it was the father.

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

The conservative New Democracy government instigated the bill to introduce joint custody, saying it aimed to "meet the best interests of the child" after a divorce.

However, feminist groups, human rights and left-wing organisations, as well as opposition parties, worry that making shared custody compulsory could compromise the safety of mothers and children.

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

Dozens of people protested against the bill outside the Greek parliament late on Tuesday.

- Today's social situation -

"The automatic establishment of shared custody by law compromises the interests of the child," Sofia Koukouli-Spiliotopoulou, an expert in family law, said.

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

Amnesty International's Esther Major also said that "any bill related to child custody should be centred on the best interests and safety of the child".

"It is a bitter irony that Greece is considering passing this amendment just days after the world marked the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention" on preventing and combating violence against women, she said in a press release.

But Dimitris Douliotis, a lawyer and member of Active Dads, said that "despite the establishment of gender equality 40 years ago in Greece, more than 90 percent of court decisions grant custody to mothers".

"The bill needs to take into account the current social situation," he argued.

"Today's fathers are much more ready than before to take care of their children."

- Women, children 'at risk' -

Greece ranks at the bottom of the European Union's gender equality index.

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

And according to the feminist movement To Mov, the bill "risks further aggravating" the situation of women and their children as it could grant any aggressor the right of custody before he is convicted.

Hillary Margolis, of Human Rights Watch, called for "the parliament to reject these alarming changes".

"The aim is to achieve shared custody, but it ignores the reality of victims of domestic violence," she warned.

In a letter to European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, MEPs from Greece's main opposition Syriza party described the bill as being "inconsistent with the European Parliament's report on domestic violence and child custody rights".

But the Active Dads group insists that domestic violence is a matter of criminal justice and "must not hinder parental care".

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

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