A bundle of eight Bills is currently under assessment by the Parliament’s legal committee, whose enactment into law would see a fundamental change in Cyprus’s Family Law. These changes are heralded for modernizing the law to reflect the changing attitudes and values relating to divorce, reproduction and children’s’ rights, thus making Cyprus a more friendly jurisdiction for family-related proceedings.
This article will provide an overview and brief commentary on the abovementioned bills.
The most welcomed amendment is proposed by the Bill on the Marriage Law introducing the new ground of consensual divorce which accounts for the responsibility of both parties in causing a deterioration of the relationship to such a degree which makes the continuation of marital cohabitation unbearable. This represents a departure from the current position which places the onus on one of the spouses for causing the deterioration in the relationship and perpetuates a toxic and unhealthy narrative to divorce. The Bill also proposes certain criteria for the application of this ground such as: (1) the marriage must have lasted for at least a period 6 months, and (2) in cases where the couple has minor children, the applicants must present a written agreement, that regulates the custody and communication with the children, to the Court. Furthermore, the Bill proposes reductions to the timeframes taken into consideration by law in proving separation whereby the mere fact that spouses have been living separately for a period of 2 years will be considered as sufficient evidence for the Court to grant the divorce, as the currently applicable period of 4 years is arguably an excessive period that unnecessarily limits the parties’ freedom.
Of equal significance is the Bill on the Spouses Property Relations (Regulation) (Amendment) Law 2018 which proposes the introduction of a presumption that a spouse’s contribution in the increase of the marital property amounts to half of such increase, thus inserting an equitable calculation of the division of the spousal property on a 50-50 basis for the first time. This departure from today’s presumption figure of 1/3 is praise-worthy, as the current position disproportionately affects women who have chosen to support the family as housewives and whose contribution can therefore not be monetarily assessed, thus presumed to amount to the lower value of 1/3. In addition, relevant provisions will bind the divorcing parties to submit their income statements for purposes of assessing the alimony payable and in terms of protecting the family home, whilst provisions will be made to give the Court power to issue relevant orders towards the employers to disclose information regarding the financial position of a party.
Two of the Bills subject to approval concern the rights and status of children conceived through posthumous conception, thus acknowledging a trend in our society of choosing alternative methods of conception. The Bill on the Wills and Succession (Amendment) Law of 2018 through the introduction of the wording “child or natural child of the deceased” to encompass children of posthumous conception recognizes their equal rights to succession. The Bill on the Children (Relatives and Legal Status) (Amendment) Law of 2018 would create the legal presumption that such children be recognized as though they were born in the duration of the marriage whilst the parent was alive. In both Bills, the operation of such rights is subject to the written approval of the deceased parent and the approval of the Council of Medically Assisted Reproduction, thus ensuring the Law is ethically justifiable.
Further, the Bill on the Parent-Child Relations (Amendment) Law proposes amendments that enhance the interests of the child by enabling the child to express his/her opinions in any judicial proceedings or administrative procedures involving him/her. Among others, the amendment recommends the assignment of the parental custody jointly to both parents, whilst the Court will have the power to order the parents to attend training or other seminars if this is regarded to be in the best interests of the child and the parent–child relationship. Custody and other matters will also be determined on the basis of a report produced by the Court-assigned group of experts, thus indicating the prioritization of the child’s best interests at an interim and final stage of the proceedings. Implementation of Court Orders will be monitored by the Court-assigned Officers of the Department of Social Welfare Services.
The Bill on the Reconciliation and Spiritual Dissolution of Marriage (Amendment) Law 2018 introduces the option of electronic submission of the notice of the spiritual dissolution application that by law precedes the divorce application filed at Court, directly through the official website of the Church of Cyprus, thus simplifying the procedure for interested applicants.
Lastly, the Bill on the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution Law of 2015 and the Bill on the Family Courts (Amendment) Law 2018 propose amendments in the regulation, education and appointment of judges that would result in the judiciary’s improvement on family law matters. The Bills which propose the reduction of the panel of judges adjudicating a divorce application from three to one, introduce the requirement of broad knowledge of or experience in family law matters for a judge’s appointment, provide for specialized training on family law matters and the assignment of the same judge to hear all family-related proceedings between the same parties for purposes of securing consistency and assessment of all relevant matters by the same judge.
The above-discussed bundle of Bills will bring about a welcome renewal to certain family laws which have been static for the last 30 years, thus evolving alongside the needs of our society.
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