Urgent measures needed to protect victims of partner violence in custody battles

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


MEPs say child custody disputes constitute a form of gender-based violence when used by violent partners to continue to harm their victims.

In a report adopted on Wednesday with 510 votes in favour, 31 against and 141 abstentions, MEPs call for urgent measures to protect victims of intimate partner violence in custody battles. The text highlights the surge in intimate partner violence during the pandemic and the difficulty in accessing support services and justice. It also reiterates Parliament’s call to add “gender-based violence” to the areas of crime listed under article 83 of the TFEU.

Custody rights and child’s best interest

Highlighting the alarming number of femicides and infanticides taking place after women report instances of gender-based violence, MEPs emphasise the protection of women and children from violence, and the best interests of the child, must take precedence over other criteria when establishing arrangements for custody and visitation rights.

When examining custody cases, the child shall also be provided with the opportunity to be heard and, in cases where intimate partner violence is suspected, hearings must be conducted in a child-friendly environment by trained professionals. Children who have witnessed domestic violence should be recognised as victims of gender-based violence and receive better legal protection and psychological support, according to MEPs.

Access to legal protection, financial support and safe accommodation

The text highlights that having an adequate income and economic independence are key factors in enabling women to leave abusive and violent relationships. MEPs call on member states to protect and help victims achieve financial independence through access to dedicated housing, health services, transport and psychological support, among other measures. Access to adequate legal protection, effective hearings, restraining orders, shelters, counselling and victim funds should also be guaranteed.

Quotes

Co-rapporteur Luisa Regimenti (EPP, IT) said: “Intimate partner violence is a serious and often hidden social problem that causes systematic physical and psychological trauma. It has serious consequences for victims and a profound impact on the emotional, economic and social well-being of whole families. We condemn with the utmost firmness all forms of domestic violence and violence against women and we ask authorities to ensure, in particular in separation proceedings or parental custody cases, woman-friendly and child-friendly justice.”

Co-rapporteur Elena Kountoura (The Left, EL) said: “Parliament sends a clear message for bold and decisive steps to tackle gender-based violence in the EU. This progressive report represents a step forward towards offering women and children who are victims of intimate partner violence a protective and fair system that is on their side. For the first time, we are not just focusing on the abused women but also on the repercussions of violence for children.

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