(CN) – Seeking to combat a growing problem of parental child abduction, European lawmakers adopted new rules Tuesday to better protect children and bring quicker resolutions to child custody fights.
Tuesday’s actions are a retooling of the Brussels IIa regulation, a cornerstone of EU judicial cooperation in cross-border matters involving marriage, divorce, separation, annulment and child custody. The regulation, passed in 2005, affects all EU member states except Denmark.
But a rise in international families – currently estimated at 16 million – and subsequent cross-border family disputes – 140,000 divorces and 1,800 children abducted by a parent annually – led the European Commission to propose amending the Brussels IIa regulation to make it more efficient.
“When parents decide to separate, children can be caught in the middle, and it gets even more complicated when the parents come from different EU countries. In these difficult situations everybody should focus on what is best for the child,” justice commissioner Vera Jourova said in a statement. “With the new rules, judicial cooperation will be faster and more efficient to make sure the children’s well-being comes first.”
The new rules set a maximum deadline of six weeks for child custody cases to be heard, plus six weeks for each court of appeal. Children old enough to form their own views will be given an opportunity to speak in court during child custody and parental abduction cases, though determining how and by whom the child is heard will be decided by member states.
Additionally, the new rules clarify how children are placed in another member state and set up a clear procedure for obtaining consent from the member state where the child is to be placed. They also make it easier to recognize amicable divorces and child custody agreements made out of court.
Finally, the new rules encourage parents embroiled in child custody battles to mediate their dispute, which the commission says will save each parent thousands of euros in legal costs and allow for speedier enforcement of a resolution.
“I am very glad that following our proposal the Council adopted new rules to ensure that any disputes between parents who disagree after separation can be quickly solved. This is about putting children first,” commission first vice president Frans Timmermans said in a statement.
The new rules take effect 20 days after publication in the Official Journal.