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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.

    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.

    Zowel in België als in Nederland komt draagmoederschap voor. Deze bijdrage heeft tot doel om de houding van de twee buurlanden ten aanzien van dit controversiële fenomeen te onderzoeken en te vergelijken.
    De wensouders en draagmoeders ervaren meerdere juridische obstakels. Zo blijkt in beide landen de draagmoederschapsovereenkomst niet geldig en evenmin afdwingbaar te zijn. Hoewel in Nederland de mogelijkheid bestaat om het ouderlijk gezag over te dragen van draagmoeder naar wensouders, is het ook daar, net zoals in België, allesbehalve evident om de band tussen kind en wensouders juridisch te verwezenlijken. Noch de oorspronkelijke, noch de adoptieve afstamming is aan het fenomeen aangepast. Vooral voor Nederland is dit vreemd aangezien de Nederlandse wetgeving uitdrukkelijk bepaalt onder welke voorwaarden medisch begeleid draagmoederschap toegelaten is. De wet schept met andere woorden een gezondheidsrechtelijk kader, maar regelt niet de gevolgen van het draagmoederschap. In België is er daarentegen geen enkele wetgeving betreffende draagmoederschap. Dit betekent dat de onaangepaste wetgeving betreffende medisch begeleide voortplanting van toepassing is op draagmoederschap. Over deze toepassing en de gevolgen ervan bestaat evenwel onduidelijkheid. Commercialisering van draagmoederschap leidt ook tot problemen. In Nederland is professionele bemiddeling en het openbaar maken van vraag en aanbod met betrekking tot draagmoederschap strafbaar gesteld. Daarnaast kunnen de omstandigheden van een zaak waarin het kind als het ware verkocht wordt aan de wensouders zowel in België als in Nederland leiden tot andere misdrijven. Gelet op dit alles begeven sommige wensouders zich naar het buitenland om daar beroep te doen op draagmoederschap. Wensen zij terug te keren met het kind naar het land van herkomst, dan leidt dit in beide buurlanden tot internationaalprivaatrechtelijke problemen.
    Door het gebrek aan een algemeen wettelijk kader, is het draagmoederschapsproces in beide landen vaak een calvarietocht. Dit leidt tot rechtsonzekerheid. Oproepen tot een wettelijk ingrijpen bleven tot nu toe echter onbeantwoord.
    Surrogacy is practiced in Belgium and the Netherlands. The aim of this contribution is to compare the many legal aspects of the phenomenon. In both countries legal problems surround surrogacy: the surrogacy contract is unenforceable; it is difficult for the intended parents to become the legal parents; commercial surrogacy can result in criminal sanctions and cross-border surrogacy leads to limping legal relations. The main differences between the two legal systems are that in Belgium there is no regulation at all, while in the Netherlands, professional mediation and advertising in surrogacy are explicitly forbidden and Dutch law provides a limited health law regulation. In both countries scholars have pressed the need for legal change.


Dr. Liesbet Pluym Ph.D.

    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.

    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.

    D'après le Code civil, et ce dè s son origine, la séparation du couple marié peut donner lieu à une obligation légale de payer au conjoint, ou à l'ancien conjoint, une pension censée couvrir ses besoins. En dehors du mariage, point de lien alimentaire prévu par la loi. Depuis 1804, deux évolutions sociales majeures ont cependant changé le visage de la vie de couple. D'un côté, elle ne passe plus nécessairement par le mariage. D'un autre côté, seule sa dimension affective est censée lui donner sens, ce qui la rend éminemment fragile. La question se pose dè s lors de savoir si le lien alimentaire qui existe actuellement en droit belge entre conjoints désunis répond encore de maniè re adéquate et pertinente aux modes de fonctionnement de l'économie conjugale.
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    According to the Civil code, and in view of its development, the separation of a married couple can give rise to a legal obligation to pay maintenance to the other spouse, or ex-spouse, in order to cover his or her needs. In contrast, outside marriage, no statutory maintenance is available. However, since 1804, two major social evolutions have changed the way of life of couples. On the one hand, maintenance no longer flows inevitably from marriage. On the other hand, only the ‘love’ dimension of a relationship supports the provision of maintenance, which makes this claim eminently fragile.
    The question then arises as to whether the maintenance between separated spouses which is presently provided for under Belgian law still adequately and appropriately serves the functioning of the conjugal economy.
    In addition, the absence of maintenance rights for unmarried couples also raises questions. The contribution proposes a reconsideration of the right to maintenance between all couples, married or not, on the basis of other justifications, in particular the solidarity which couples establish during their shared lives.


Dr. Nathalie Dandoy
Nathalie Dandoy is lecturer at the catholic University of Louvain. She is member of the research centre of Family Law (Cefap-UCL). Her main research area concerns the maintenance rights between family members. She is member of editorial committee of Revue trimestrielle de droit familial and Journal des Juges de paix et de police.

    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.
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