EU Commission improves rules on children protection in cross-border parental responsibility disputes

Employment and Social Affairs
EU Commission proposed improvements to the EU rules on children protection in the context of cross-border parental responsibility disputes related to custody, access rights and child abduction.

Last week, improvements to the EU rules on children protection in the context of cross-border parental responsibility disputes related to custody, access rights and child abduction were proposed by the European Commission.

The new rules aim at speeding up the legal and administrative proceedings, as well as ensuring that the child’s best interest is always taken into account.

Children are at the heart of this reform,” said Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, “The children concerned deserve judicial proceedings that clarify their situation as quickly as possible and take into account their best interest. We propose today to upgrade the existing rules on the basis of practical experience during the past 10 years. The focus of this reform is clear: we need to speed up the cross-border cases. Time is of the essence for children’s welfare, so we need these new rules quickly.

Based on the assessment of the existing rules, the updated rules on children protection aim to rectify the identified weaknesses. As time is essential in order to safeguard children’s best interests in these cross-border parental responsibility disputes, a key objective is to ensure quicker overall procedures.

Ensuring more efficient procedures and the fact that the child is heard

A maximum period of 18 weeks – maximum six weeks for the receiving Central Authority to process the application, six weeks for the first instance court, and six weeks for the appellate court – will be set for the deadlines to accomplish different stages of the child return procedure, while a decision on return will be appealable only once. In the meantime, the judge will have to consider whether a judgment that orders the return of the child should be enforceable.

Parental child abduction cases, in full respect of the structure of the national legal systems, will be heard by a limited number of courts in order to allow judges developing the required expertise.

An opportunity to express views will be guaranteed to children able to form their own opinions in all proceedings concerning their case. This will be particularly true for proceedings on custody and access, as well as on the return of children if they were seized by one of their parents.

Rapid enforcement of decisions in other Member States, together with improved cooperation between Member States’ authorities

At present, parents often need to apply a decision on custody or access to be enforced in another Member State. The new rules, however, abolish the exequatur, namely that intermediary procedure needed for the enforcement of a judgment in another Member State. In case the enforcement has not yet occurred after 6 weeks, the requesting Central Authority in the Member State of origin or directly the applicant will be informed by the court on the reasons for the lack of timely enforcement. Additionally, the court issuing the judgment will be able to declare it provisionally enforceable, as so to speed up enforcement.

In order to establish mutual trust between the authorities of different Member States, a good cooperation between Central Authorities in handling of child cases is indispensable. For this reason, the new rules are intended to promote better cooperation between Central Authorities. Indeed, the latter are not only the direct point of contact for parents, but also play a key role in sustaining the judges in applying the rules. In addition, child welfare authorities will be better integrated in cross-border cooperation.

The European Commission claims that families and children will greatly benefit from the new rules on children protection, as they will gain from both reduced timelines for solving proceedings and from lower costs usually linked to such procedures.

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