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    This article examines the hearing of children in Belgian and Dutch courts in return proceedings following an international child abduction. The analysis is based on the experience, insights and needs of both children who have experienced an abduction by one of their parents, and family judges. In this sensitive and often highly conflicted family context, hearing children in court is not self-evident. Challenges of both a judicial-institutional and communicative-relational nature can hinder the effective implementation of children’s right to be heard. This contribution seeks to answer the question of how to better support judges and children in addressing these challenges, with the aim of enabling children to fully and effectively participate in return procedures. Building on the interviews with children and judges, supplemented with findings from Belgian and Dutch case law and international literature, three key recommendations are formulated: 1) explore and evaluate opportunities for judges and children to experience support during the return procedure, for example via the figure of the guardian ad litem; 2) invest in training and opportunities for specialisation of judges with a view to strengthen their expertise in taking the best interests of the child into account; and 3) systematically pay attention to feedback to the children involved on how the final decision about their return is made – and this before, during and after the procedure.
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    Dit artikel bestudeert het horen van kinderen in Belgische en Nederlandse rechtbanken in terugkeerprocedures volgend op een internationale kinderontvoering. De analyse vertrekt vanuit de beleving, ervaring, inzichten, noden en behoeften van zowel kinderen als van bevoegde familierechters. In deze gevoelige en vaak uiterst conflictueuze gezinscontext is het horen van kinderen door de rechter geen evidentie. Uitdagingen van zowel juridisch-institutionele als communicatieve-relationele aard kunnen een effectieve implementatie van het recht van kinderen om gehoord te worden in de weg staan. Dit artikel zoekt een antwoord op de vraag hoe rechters en kinderen beter kunnen worden ondersteund om deze uitdagingen aan te pakken, met als doel dat kinderen volwaardig kunnen participeren in de terugkeerprocedure. Voortbouwend op de interviews met kinderen en rechters, aangevuld met bevindingen uit Belgische en Nederlandse rechtspraak en internationale literatuur, worden drie sleutelaanbevelingen geformuleerd: 1) voorzie mogelijkheden voor rechters en kinderen om spanningsvelden weg te werken tijdens de terugkeerprocedure, bijvoorbeeld via de ondersteunende figuur van de bijzonder curator; 2) investeer in opleiding en groeiende specialisatiemogelijkheden bij rechters en 3) heb aandacht voor feedback en terugkoppeling naar de betrokken kinderen over hoe de eindbeslissing over hun terugkeer tot stand komt, en dit zowel voor, tijdens als na de procedure.


Sara Lembrechts LLM
Sara Lembrechts is researcher at University of Antwerp (Law and Development Research Group) and policy advisor at Children’s Rights Knowledge Centre (KeKi).

Marieke Putters LLM
Marieke Putters is researcher at the International Child Abduction Center (Centrum IKO).

Kim Van Hoorde
Kim Van Hoorde is Project & Prevention Manager at Child Focus.

dr. Thalia Kruger
Thalia Kruger, PhD, is Associate Professor at the University of Antwerp (Personal Rights and Property Rights Research Group) and Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town.

dr. Koen Ponnet
Koen Ponnet, PhD, is Professor at Imec-Mict-Ghent University (Faculty of Social Sciences).

dr. Wouter Vandenhole
Wouter Vandenhole, PhD, is Professor at the University of Antwerp (Law and Development Research Group).

    Alternative/amicable dispute resolution (ADR) is omnipresent these days. In line with global evolutions, the Belgian legislator embraced the use of these ADR mechanisms. Recent reforms of the law, first in 2013 with the act concerning the introduction of a Family and Juvenile Court and consecutively in 2018 with the act containing diverse provisions regarding civil law with a view to the promotion of alternative forms of conflict resolution, implemented more far-reaching measures to promote ADR than ever before. The ultimate goal seems to alter our society’s way of conflict resolution and make the court the ultimum remedium in case all other options failed.In that respect, the legislator took multiple initiatives to stimulate amicable dispute resolution. The reform of 2013 focused solely on family cases, the one in 2018 was broader and designed for all civil cases. The legal tools consist firstly of an information provision regarding ADR for the family judge’s clerk, lawyers and bailiffs. The judges can hear parties about prior initiatives they took to resolve their conflict amicably and assess whether amicable solutions can still be considered, as well as explain these types of solutions and adjourn the case for a short period to investigate the possibilities of amicable conflict resolution. A legal framework has been created for a new method, namely collaborative law and the law also regulates the link between a judicial procedure and the methods of mediation and collaborative law to facilitate the transition between these procedures. Finally, within the Family Courts, specific ‘Chambers of Amicable Settlement’ were created, which framework is investigated more closely in this article. All of these legal tools are further discussed and assessed on their strengths and weaknesses.
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    Alternatieve of minnelijke conflictoplossing is alomtegenwoordig. De Belgische wetgever heeft het gebruik van deze minnelijke oplossingsmethodes omarmd, in navolging van wereldwijde evoluties. Recente wetshervormingen implementeerden maatregelen ter promotie van minnelijke conflictoplossing die verder reiken dan ooit tevoren. Het betreft vooreerst de hervorming in 2013 met de wet betreffende de invoering van een familie- en jeugdrechtbank en vervolgens kwam er in 2018 de wet houdende diverse bepalingen inzake burgerlijk recht en bepalingen met het oog op de bevordering van alternatieve vormen van geschillenoplossing. De ultieme doelstelling van deze hervormingen is een mentaliteitswijziging omtrent onze wijze van conflictoplossing teweegbrengen, waarbij de rechtbank het ultimum remedium dient te worden nadat alle overige opties faalden.De wetshervorming van 2013 focuste uitsluitend op familiale materies, de hervorming van 2018 was ruimer en had alle burgerlijke zaken voor ogen. De wettelijke mogelijkheden bestaan vooreerst uit een informatieverstrekking omtrent minnelijke conflictoplossing in hoofde van de griffier van de familierechtbank, advocaten en gerechtsdeurwaarders. Rechters kunnen partijen horen omtrent eerdere ondernomen initiatieven om hun conflict op een minnelijke manier op te lossen, zij beoordelen of minnelijke oplossingen alsnog kunnen worden overwogen, zij kunnen de diverse minnelijke mogelijkheden toelichten aan partijen alsook de zaak voor een korte periode uitstellen om partijen toe te laten de mogelijkheden aan minnelijke conflictoplossing te verkennen. Er werd voorts een wetgevend kader uitgewerkt voor een nieuwe oplossingsmethode, namelijk de collaboratieve onderhandeling. De wet creëert tevens een link tussen een gerechtelijke procedure en de methodes van bemiddeling en collaboratieve onderhandeling, om de overgang tussen deze procedures te vereenvoudigen. Tot slot werden er binnen de familierechtbanken specifieke kamers voor minnelijke schikking opgericht, waarvan het wetgevend kader in detail wordt bestudeerd in dit artikel. Al deze wettelijke opties worden nader besproken en beoordeeld aan de hand van hun sterktes en zwaktes.


Sofie Raes
Sofie Raes is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute for Family Law of the University of Ghent, where she researches alternative dispute resolution, with a focus on the chambers of amicable settlement in Family Courts. She is also an accredited mediator in family cases.

    De studie beoogt aan de hand van 87 dossiers van gezag- en omgangsonderzoeken door de Raad voor de Kinderbescherming (RvdK) meer inzicht te krijgen in situaties waarin de ene ouder de andere ouder in het kader van een (echt)scheiding beschuldigt van seksueel misbruik van kinderen. De dossiers zijn gekoppeld aan bijbehorende civielrechtelijke beschikkingen en het Justitiële Documentatiesysteem. Hierdoor is de problematiek van verschillende kanten belicht. Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat het over het algemeen complexe zaken zijn, waarin naast de BSKM nog meer problemen zijn binnen de gezinnen. De aard van het vermeende seksueel misbruik is ernstig, en de kinderen gemiddeld jong. Regelmatig is de beschuldiging geuit bij politie en hulpverlening vóór de rechtszaak en het raadsonderzoek. De rechtszaken betreffen over het algemeen procedures omtrent gezag, verdeling van zorg- en opvoedingstaken en omgang. Vrijwel nooit is vast te stellen of het seksueel kindermisbruik heeft plaatsgevonden. Slechts drie ouders zijn veroordeeld voor het misbruik. Eén vader is vrijgesproken, twee vaders zijn niet nader vervolgd omdat zij ten onrechte als verdachte waren aangemerkt. Civiele rechters die beslissingen moeten nemen over de kinderen staan voor een dubbel dilemma: het al dan niet serieus nemen van de beschuldiging kan schadelijke gevolgen hebben voor kinderen, en daarnaast kan, vanwege de onzekerheid over de gegrondheid, een beslissing tot nader onderzoek ook schadelijk zijn omdat dit het proces verlengt. De RvdK adviseert de rechtbank regelmatig om definitieve beslissingen omtrent de kinderen aan te houden, in afwachting van bijvoorbeeld hulpverlening of een ondertoezichtstelling. Het is echter doorgaans niet de waarschijnlijkheid van het SKM, maar de gevolgen van de beschuldiging zelf waar de RvdK zijn zorgen regelmatig over uit. Hierdoor lijkt het dat de beschuldiging, en niet het potentiële misbruik, een katalysator is voor onwenselijke gevolgen voor de kinderen.
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    This study aims to provide insight into allegations of child sexual abuse in the context of divorce and related proceedings by reviewing 87 files concerning investigations by the Dutch child protective service (CPS). These files are linked to the court rulings about the families in question, as well as the criminal record database. This makes it possible to look at this problem from various angles. The study shows that the cases are generally complex, in which aside from the allegations of sexual abuse, other issues existed within the families. The nature of the alleged abuses were serious, and the children were relatively young. Often an allegation was made to the police and social work organizations before the civil proceeding and investigation by the CPS. The proceedings generally concerned matters relating to the custody of and access to the children. It was very rarely possible to determine whether the child sexual abuse had actually taken place. Only three fathers were convicted of the abuses concerned. One father was acquitted and two fathers were wrongfully identified as suspects. Civil judges who have to make decisions about the children are faced with a double dilemma: firstly, the decision of whether or not to take the allegation seriously can have damaging consequences for the children involved. Secondly, the choice to proceed with further investigation and aid within the family, due to uncertainty as to the veracity of the allegation(s) in question, can lead to a prolonged process that damages the child. The study shows that the CPS often advises the court to postpone definitive decisions about the children so that social work organizations can provide more information on the matter at hand. However, the study also shows that it is generally not the potential abuse, but the allegation itself that the CPS expresses concern about.


Anne Smit MSc.
Anne Smit is a PhD Candidate at the VU University Amsterdam. She is currently writing her PhD dissertation on the topic: ‘Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Children in Divorce Procedures: Towards Evidence-Based Guidelines’.

Masha Antokolskaia
Masha Antokolskaia is a professor of family law at the VU University Amsterdam. She is head of the Amsterdam Centre of Family Law (ACFL), as well as a member of the Commission on European Family Law (CEFL) and of the Executive Council of the International Society of Family Law. Her main fields of interest are comparative family law, European family law, empirical family law studies and history of family law.

Catrien Bijleveld
Catrien Bijleveld is the director of the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). Prior to this she worked as a senior researcher at NSCR. Her research activities focus on research into criminal careers and (experimental) research into the effectiveness of interventions, juvenile sex offenders, historical trends and the intergenerational transmission of delinquent behaviour. Catrien Bijleveld is also a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW).

    This report discusses the interesting remarks and conclusions made by the speakers at the ERA seminar, ‘Recent Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights in Family Law Matters’, which took place in Strasbourg on 11-12 February 2016. The report starts with a brief discussion on the shifting notion of ‘family life’ in the case law of the ECtHR, then turns to best interests of the child in international child abduction cases, the Court’s recognition of LGBT rights and finally the spectrum of challenges regarding reproductive rights in the Court’s case law. The overarching general trend is that the Court is increasingly faced with issues concerning non-traditional forms of family and with issues caused by the internationalisation of families. How this is seen in the Court’s recent case law and how it effects the various areas of family law is discussed in this report.


Charlotte Mol LL.B.
Charlotte Mol is a Legal Research Master student at the University of Utrecht, where she specializes in family law and private international law. She has assisted the Commission on European Family Law with the editing of the comparative study on informal relationships. As a guest student she visited the University of Antwerp for two months, where she researched the best interests of the child in international child abduction cases in collaboration with, and under the supervision of, Prof. Thalia Kruger. She holds a European Law School LL.B. from Maastricht University.
Article

Access_open Religie en cultuur in familierechtelijke beslissingen over kinderen

Journal Family & Law, September 2015
Authors Mr. dr. Merel Jonker, Rozemarijn van Spaendonck and Mr. dr. Jet Tigchelaar
AbstractAuthor's information

    In deze bijdrage worden de resultaten gepresenteerd van een uitgebreid jurisprudentieonderzoek naar de wijze waarop religie en cultuur betrokken worden in de overwegingen van de rechter in familierechtelijke beslissingen over kinderen in Nederland. Naast een kwantitatief overzicht van de gepubliceerde jurisprudentie worden de uitspraken inhoudelijk ontsloten en geanalyseerd aan de hand van thema's zoals bloedtransfusies, cultuurverschillen en identiteitsontwikkeling, rituelen (besnijdenis en doop) en schoolkeuze. Bij de analyse wordt onderscheid gemaakt tussen de rechten van het kind en de rechten van ouders, en wordt ingegaan op de vraag welke criteria de rechter hanteert voor de afweging van de rechten van het kind en diens ouders. Ook wordt besproken in hoeverre internationale normen herkenbaar zijn in de overwegingen van de rechter. Uit de 79 rechtszaken waarin de rechter overwegingen wijdt aan religie en cultuur, blijkt dat deze aspecten zowel positieve als negatieve effecten kunnen hebben op het belang van het kind en met name op de identiteitsontwikkeling van het kind. De rechter hanteert hierbij criteria zoals: schade voor de gezondheid van het kind, sociale aansluiting met anderen van dezelfde religieuze of culturele achtergrond, en praktische overwegingen.
    This contribution presents the results of an extensive Dutch case law study on the way in which religion and culture play a role in the considerations of judges in family law decisions regarding children. In addition to a quantitative overview of the published case law in the Netherlands, the decisions are analysed on the basis of themes such as blood transfusion, culture differences and identity development, rituals (circumcision and baptism), and choosing a school. In the analysis, a distinction is made between the rights of the child and the rights of parents. Furthermore, the criteria which the judge deploys to balance the rights of the child and the rights of its parents are addressed. Finally, the extent to which international legal standards can be identified in the considerations of the judge is discussed. From the 79 cases in which the judge consider to religion and culture, it appears that these aspects can have both positive and negative effects upon the best interests of the child, and in particular upon the identity development of the child. In these cases, the judge uses criteria such as: harm to the health of the child, social connections with others of the same religious and cultural background, and practical day-to-day considerations.


Mr. dr. Merel Jonker
Merel Jonker is als universitair docent verbonden aan de vakgroep Privaatrecht van de Universiteit Utrecht en aan het Utrecht Centre for European research into Family Law (UCERF).

Rozemarijn van Spaendonck
Rozemarijn van Spaendonck is Legal Research Master student en is vanaf 1 november 2015 als aio verbonden aan de vakgroep Strafrecht van de Universiteit Utrecht.

Mr. dr. Jet Tigchelaar
Jet Tigchelaar is als universitair docent verbonden aan de vakgroep Staats- en bestuursrecht en rechtstheorie van de Universiteit Utrecht en aan het Utrecht Centre for European research into Family Law (UCERF).

    Op 11 februari 2015 heeft het Comité van Ministers van de Raad van Europa de Recommendation on preventing and resolving disputes on child relocation aangenomen. Dit is het eerste Europese instrument over het verhuizen met kinderen na scheiding. De Recommendation heeft een duidelijk tweeledig doel: het voorkomen van conflicten over verhuizingen met kinderen en, indien een conflict is gerezen, het bieden van richtsnoeren voor het oplossen daarvan. In deze bijdrage staan in de eerste plaats de inhoud van de Recommendation en de daarbij gemaakte keuzes centraal. Daarnaast wordt ingegaan op de vraag wat deze Recommendation kan betekenen voor het Nederlandse recht en de toepassing daarvan in verhuiszaken. In de Recommendation worden enige, naar het oordeel van de auteur verstandige keuzes gemaakt. Zo verdient het stevig inzetten op alternatieve geschiloplossing steun. Daarnaast is de aanbevolen afzonderlijke beoordeling van het belang van het kind, zonder dat dit belang echter de doorslag hoeft te geven, in overeenstemming met vaste rechtspraak van de Hoge Raad in verhuiszaken. Ook het pleidooi voor een neutrale, kind-gecentreerde, casuïstische benadering door de rechter strookt met de wijze waarop Nederlandse rechters tot hun beslissingen in verhuiszaken komen. Specifieke verhuiswetgeving op deze punten, zoals de Recommendation voorstelt, acht de auteur dan ook niet nodig. Wel zou de wettelijke verankering van de in de Recommendation voorgestelde formele notificatieplicht kunnen bijdragen aan het voorkomen van verhuisconflicten. Krachtens deze plicht dient de ouder met een verhuiswens de andere ouder – schriftelijk en binnen een redelijke termijn – te informeren over de voorgenomen verhuizing. Hoewel de verwachtingen van het daadwerkelijke effect van de Recommendation als niet-bindend instrument niet al te hoog gespannen moeten zijn, draagt deze bij aan de erkenning van verhuizing met kinderen als een (hoog)potentieel conflictueuze aangelegenheid.
    On the 11th February 2015 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the Recommendation on preventing and resolving disputes on child relocation. This is the first European instrument on child relocation. The aim of the Recommendation is twofold: preventing relocation disputes, and in case of a dispute, providing guidelines for solving them. This contribution firstly intends to examine the principles of the Recommendation and the choices that has been made during the drafting process. Secondly, it will look at the question of to what extent the Recommendation could lead to any adjustments of Dutch law and its application in relocation cases. In the opinion of the author, a number of prudent choices have been made in the Recommendation. In the first place, the encouragement of alternative dispute resolution ought to be supported. Secondly, the recommended individual and separate assessment of the best interests of the child (whose interests are, however, not decisive) is in accordance with the case law of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in relocation cases. The plea for a neutral, child centered, case-by-case approach by the court is also consistent with the way in which Dutch courts make their decisions in relocation cases. Specific relocation legislation in this regard is not necessary in the opinion of the author. However, a legislative provision requiring the relocating parent to inform the other parent prior to the intended relocation might contribute to the prevention of disputes on child relocation. Although expectations concerning the actual effect of the Recommendation as a non-binding instrument should not be too high, it nevertheless contributes to the recognition of child relocation as an issue with a high potential for conflict.


Prof. mr. Lieke Coenraad
Prof. mr. Lieke Coenraad is Professor of Private Law and Dispute Resolution at the law faculty of VU University Amsterdam. She is also deputy judge at the Court of Appeal of Amsterdam.

    Those who talk can be heard. Those who are allowed to talk may be listened to. This study is an attempt to give legal voice to those who cannot talk or are usually not listened to: children. This study is about the attention given to their interests, the best interests of the child. When these interests are immersed in a minority context, children may be overlooked for different reasons, including discriminatory attitudes or prejudice regarding their families. Law and its interpretation must be changed in order to include the difference. This study discusses the best interests of the child principle with special attention to its legal relevance in cases where lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) are, or want to be, parents. The authoritative source for the interpretation of the principle is the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The analysis focuses on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and its case law. The study aims to explore the Court’s approach to the best interest of the child and identify whether the principle is being consistently applied in cases involving LGBT families, given the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are still sensitive issues in Europe. This is done by comparing these cases to cases lodged by applicants who were not identified as an LGBT person. The margin of appreciation doctrine and the lack of European consensus on sexual minorities’ rights are confronted with the urgent paramount consideration that has to be given to children’s best interests. The analysis explores whether there is room for detecting a possible Court’s biased approach towards the concept of the best interests of the child. This study challenges the Court’s decisions in the sense that the focus should not only be at the LGBT parents’ rights to private and family life, but also at the interests of their daughters and sons. This is an attempt to call upon the ECtHR and all states not only to actively fight discrimination against LGBT persons, but, ultimately, to stop interpreting the concept of the best interests of the child in an arguably biased way, and to consider the principle’s legal value in any decision, regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity or any other distinction.


Mr. Gabriel Alves de Faria
Gabriel Alves de Faria is a Brazilian lawyer, LGBTI activist and human rights specialist who holds a Law degree from the Federal University of Espirito Santo and a European Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation (E. MA/EIUC - Utrecht University). Among other legal and social experiences in the human rights field, Gabriel has worked as a researcher in comparative sexual orientation Law at Leiden University and most recently as a Fellow and consultant lawyer at the LGBTI Rapporteurship of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC. His latest project is a documentary on the situation of LGBTI persons in Southeast Asia.

    Legal position of a known donor constitutes an ongoing challenge. Known donors are often willing to play a role in the child’s life. Their wishes range from scarce involvement to aspiring legal parentage. Therefore three persons may wish for parental role. This is not catered for in the current laws allowing only for two legal parents. Several studies show how lesbian mothers and a donor ’devise new definitions of parenthood’ extending ’beyond the existing normative framework’. However, the diversity in the roles of the donors suggests a split of parental rights between three persons rather than three traditional legal parents. In this article I will discuss three jurisdictions (Quebec, Sweden and the Netherlands), allowing co-mother to become legal parent other than by a step-parent adoption. I will examine whether these jurisdictions attempt to accommodate specific needs of lesbian families by splitting up parentage ’package’ between the duo-mothers and the donor.


Prof. mr. Masha Antokolskaia Ph.D.
Masha Antokolskaia is professor of Private Law (in particular, Personal Status and Family Law) at the VU University Amsterdam. She is a member of the Commission on European Family Law (CEFL) and a board member of the International Society of Family Law. She is author of a diverse range of monographs and articles written in Dutch, English and Russian. Her main research areas are: European comparative Family Law and Dutch Family Law, with particular regard to the law relating to relationships, parentage and divorce.

    This article discusses the possibility spouses have under the Rome III Regulation (EC Regulation 1259/2010) to choose the law applicable to their divorce. It discusses the limits and exceptions of this freedom to choose.


Dr. Thalia Kruger
Thalia Kruger is professor at the law faculty of the University of Antwerp, where she teaches and researches private international law, international civil procedure and international family law. She is also Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town.

    This article seeks to critically analyse the European Commission's Proposal for a Council Regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law and recognition and enforcement of decisions in matters of matrimonial property regimes (COM (2011) 126). It focuses upon the coordination of the Proposal's provisions on jurisdiction and applicable law with the parallel provisions contained in other related EU private international law instruments, namely those relating to divorce (Brussels II bis and Rome III) and succession (Succession Regulation). In doing so, the article adopts a 'stress-test' approach, presenting scenarios in which interaction between these related instruments takes place. The compositions and circumstances of the fictitious couples in these scenarios are varied in order to fully illustrate the potential consequences of the interplay between the instruments. This article seeks to assess the extent to which (in)consistency exists between the current and proposed EU private international instruments and, by evaluating this interaction through a number of norms, how identified inconsistencies impact upon international couples' legal relationships. In order to ensure the analysis remains as up to date as possible, the article will also take into account relevant changes introduced in the latest revised versions of the Proposal.


Jacqueline Gray LL.M.
Jacqueline Gray studied law at the University of Glasgow (2006-2010) and European law at the Leiden University (2010-2011). Following this, she undertook a four-month internship at the Molengraaff Institute for Private Law and five-month traineeship at the European Parliament in Brussels. She is now a PhD student at the Molengraaff Institute for Private Law, where she is writing her dissertation on party autonomy in the EU private international law relating to family matters and succession.

Pablo Quinzá Redondo LL.M.
Pablo Quinzá Redondo, a research scholar funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Valencia. His specialisation concerns 'The europeanisation of matrimonial property regimes from a substantive and private international law perspective'. Prior to commencing his PhD, he completed undergraduate degrees in both Law and Administration and Business management (2004- 2010), as well as a Master’s degree in Company Law (2010-2012), at the University of Valencia.

    In this paper, I will firstly illustrate the broader context of the contractualisation of family law by drawing upon the oscillations in family regulation between private and public regulators, in the light of the so-called family law exceptionalism. I consider the contractualisation of family law to be the ordering of the family by families and individuals through the use of legally binding private instruments. I will elaborate upon the substantive and jurisdictional contractualisation of family law in Sections 2 and 3 of this paper respectively. The deliberately 'impressionist' presentation of Section 1-3 leads onto the conclusion which proposes that States benevolently tolerate substantive contractualisation through a lower standard of judicial review, and that, whilst they actively stimulate jurisdictional contractualisation of the content of family relations, the formation and dissolution of family relations still appear to fall within the State's exclusive domain (Section 4).
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    In deze bijdrage situeer ik eerst de 21ste eeuwse contractualisering van het familierecht in de historische pendelbeweging tussen publieke en private regulering van familieleven. Die leidde in de 19de en 20ste eeuw tot de aanneming van een bijzondere, niet-contractuele, aard van het familierecht (sectie 1). Ik beschouw als contractualisering van het familierecht: de regulering van familieleven door de familie en door individuen, door middel van juridisch bindende privaatrechtelijke instrumenten. Ik zal ingaan op de inhoudelijke en jurisdictionele contractualisering van het familierecht in respectievelijk de secties 2 en 3 van deze bijdrage. De bewust 'impressionistische' uiteenzetting in secties 1-3 leidt naar de conclusie dat Staten enerzijds een welwillende houding aannemen ten opzichte van inhoudelijke contractualisering, doordat een lagere norm van rechterlijke toetsing wordt gehanteerd. Anderzijds stimuleren zij actief de jurisdictionele contractualisering van de inhoud van familierelaties. Het aangaan en de beëindiging van familierelaties blijven daarentegen het exclusieve domein van de Staat (sectie 4).


Prof. dr. Frederik Swennen
Frederik Swennen is a senior lecturer at the University of Antwerp and an attorney at the Brussels Bar.

    Met de financiële steun van het FWO Vlaanderen werd een doctoraat geschreven over grensoverschrijdend familierecht in de praktijk. Opzet van het onderzoek was om de concrete toepassing van het Belgisch Wetboek IPR grondig door te lichten. De auteur onderzocht of de doelstellingen van de wetgever werden bereikt in de praktijk. Hiertoe steunde zij op drie bronnen: 1) een databank met meer dan 3000 adviesvragen aan het Steunpunt IPR; 2) diepte-interviews met magistraten gespecialiseerd in familiezaken met een internationaal aspect; 3) 659 rechterlijke uitspraken. Dit empirisch bronnenmateriaal gaf de auteur een goed zicht op de wijze waarop rechtbanken en administraties de IPR-regels toepassen. Het artikel gaat uitvoerig in op de empirische onderzoeksmethode en bespreekt enkele onderzoeksbevindingen en beleidsaanbevelingen.
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    Through funding from the Research Foundation Flanders, a doctoral thesis on the actual practices of cross-border family law has been written. The main research question concerned whether or not the Belgian Code of Private International Law adequately deals with 'real-life' international family law matters. It was examined whether the objectives set out by the legislator have been met in practice. Three empirical sources were relied upon: 1) The database of the Centre for Private International Law, which contained more than 3.000 files, ranging from simple questions posed to the helpdesk to more elaborate advice given by the Centre's lawyers; 2) In-depth interviews with judges specialized in cross-border family cases; 3) 656 court decisions. This material allowed the author to obtain a very good understanding of how courts and (local) authorities apply the PIL rules. This paper elaborates on the empirical methodology, several research findings and policy recommendations.


Dr. Jinske Verhellen
Jinske Verhellen is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Private International Law Institute of Ghent University. Alongside this, she lectures in private international law, nationality law and immigration law at the Oost-Vlaamse Bestuursacademie (East Flanders Management Academy).
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