CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE

Children to be better protected in cross-border disputes

Mairead McGuinness202 views

Mairead McGuinness MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament has welcomed proposals to better protect children in cross-border parental disputes in the EU.

As Children’s Rights Mediator for the European Parliament, McGuinness welcomed the publication of the proposals: “The new rules proposed by the European Commission today aim to strengthen the best interests of the child in the context of cross-border parental disputes related to custody, access rights and child abduction.

“Importantly, the aim is to speed up legal and administrative proceedings, to improve cooperation between Member States, and to ensure that the child’s best interest is always taken into account.”

The importance of finding amicable solutions through mediation in all cases concerning children, and in particular in cases of international child abduction is stressed.

“This is both welcome and essential to try and prevent difficult situations from escalating and to avoid lengthy and costly legal cases, which are not in the best interests of the child”, McGuinness said.

The Commission is proposing that parental child abduction cases are heard by a limited number of courts so that judges develop the necessary expertise in this specific area of law. And maximum deadlines will be applied to different stages of the child return procedure.

“Cross-border disputes over children result in distress for everyone involved, children in particular, and greater clarity and efficiency of cross-border judicial cooperation is crucial. This allows for a secure legal environment for children to maintain relations with both parents.”

In future, a child that is capable of forming his or her own views will be guaranteed to have their voice heard in all proceedings concerning their case, McGuinness added. This will apply in particular to proceedings on custody and access, and on the return of children if they were abducted by one of their parents.

The new rules will ensure a faster and EU-wide enforcement of judicial decisions in such cases. Reducing the duration of these legal proceedings will also benefit families by reducing the cost burden associated with lengthy cases.

“Already progress has been made in some member states in this area of law, including Ireland. However, we need all member states to agree common standards and time lines for court hearings and implementation of return orders, otherwise children and adults will continue to suffer unnecessarily”, McGuinness continued.

“As Children’s Rights Mediator, I often deal with such cases where one parent is separated from a child or children and is at a loss to get court orders implemented and followed through.

“I hope this revision of the so-called Brussels IIa regulation will result in less trauma for children, who are always the innocent victims when relationship breakdowns are not handled properly,” she added.

Today’s proposal will be subject to approval by the Council of Ministers in consultation with the European Parliament.