It is children who pay the price when EU member states fail to cooperate and protect children’s best interests in legal proceedings such as cross-border parental custody disputes and adoption decisions, Parliament points out in a non-binding resolution voted on Thursday. MEPs want specialised chambers within EU countries’ family courts to ensure that transnational cases are processed faster.
“There is a need for more cooperation in family matters with cross-border aspects. Our aim is not to impose a single vision of how to handle family conflicts or deal with child welfare issues, but to ensure that the freedom of persons within the Union works in practice, also when it is related to family matters”, said Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE), chair of the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee, which tabled the resolution after receiving hundreds of petitions on various child-related cases from across the EU.
In the text, approved by a show of hands, MEPs recommend closing legal loopholes in the Brussels II regulation on family law, ahead of an upcoming review.
Safeguarding children’s rights in legal proceedings
Parliament wants EU member states to designate specialised chambers within family courts or cross-border mediation bodies to ensure that transnational child-related cases are processed swiftly. These cases involve a wide range of scenarios, from forcibly placing children in another member state to abductions of children by parents and custody disputes in national courts involving parents of different EU nationalities.
MEPs call on member states to improve their legal cooperation, and for the EU Commission to help provide clear information to all EU citizens on child related legal proceedings such as parents rights in different EU countries. Parliament also stresses that children caught up in cross-border family disputes have the right to maintain regular and direct contact with their parents, unless this proves harmful to them. To this end, EU countries should guarantee regular visiting rights for parents while proceedings are under way and also allow them to use their own native tongue with their children during visits, says the text.
Avoid separating siblings
EU member states and the Commission should also lay down rules to ensure that adoption decisions taken in each country are recognised by the others, so as to avoid bureaucratic objections, say MEPs.
Parliament says that non-consensual adoption, or any other fostering arrangement, should give children the best possible opportunity to maintain links with their cultural backgrounds and to learn and use their mother tongues. They also call on member states to make every effort to avoid separating siblings in forced placement cases.