A recent bill proposed by the Justice Minister, would amend the Civil Code in a way that joint custody of children would be ordered at the request of only one of the parents, in case of a divorce. While Judit Varga praises the motion as something in the interest of children, some NGOs are protesting the bill, pointing to contradictory scientific proof and the danger of abusive parents gaining more rights.
Under the amendment, parental custody will be exercised jointly by the parents, even if they no longer live together, unless they have agreed otherwise or the guardianship authorities or the court have ruled otherwise.
The Minister of Justice told InfoRádió that this was in the interest of the children as it lifts a major source of conflict. “Joint parental responsibility may be exercised by alternating the parents’ right and obligation to have and to care for the child for the same period of time. In the absence of an agreement between the separated parents, the judge would decide, on request or ex officio in the best interests of the child, which parent would have custody. The court may also decide on the joint exercise of parental authority at the request of one of the parents if it is in the best interests of the child,” Varga explained.
This allows the judge to order so-called “alternating custody” at the initiative of either one of the parents, where the child is with the mother for two weeks, and then with the father for two weeks in the case of divorce. “This was previously only possible in the case of an agreement, but life has gone beyond that,” explained Judit Varga.
She believes that this would ensure that separation be as least stressful as possible, especially for the children, and that the actual relationships would be equal. The minister said that this would give the judge more leeway, but also more responsibility, as if any circumstance that creates more conflict and thus more problems with the separation is detected, a joint custody couldn’t be ordered.
Civil organizations protest
Varga also stated that the civil sphere, including Hintalovon Foundation and Apaszív (Father’s Heart) Foundation, welcomed the government’s move. Apparently this could not be said for the entire civil sphere, however, as several organizations are in protest of the bill, emphasizing that joint custody is not necessarily good for the child.
According to NaNe and Patent Associations and the Hungarian Women’s Lobby (all mostly involved in combating violence against women), while this kind of solution has become widespread in Western European countries over recent decades, several evaluations based on long-term observations and studies showed that alternating placement, especially in early childhood is often harmful for children.
Their joint statement argues that the lack of a stable relationship between the child and the primary caregiver, the lack of a stable home environment, and the stress of frequent changes of placement can undermine the child’s sense of balance and security, increase emotional demands, and damage his or her personal development.
It is also important to note that fathers who have a history of violence and abuse towards their family members are the most likely to demand alternate custody or shared custody in the absence of a mutual agreement.
In her reaction to the criticism, Varga labeled objections ” not serious,” claiming that under the new amendment, courts must always take into consideration the children’s interests, and of course, establishing joint custody if either parent is suspected of abuse is “out of question.”
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