By Andria Kades
BETWEEN 800 and 850 divorces – more than two a day – are being filed every year in Cyprus and coupled with complications such as child custody and alimony battles, the courts are left to deal with 2,500 cases a year, MPs heard yesterday.
As a response to the growing phenomenon, deputies at the House legal affairs committee were mulling a bill to change the constitution so that divorce cases can be processed faster. The bill was submitted by Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou.
It aims to amend the constitution, specifically article 111 reducing the number of judges on the bench of the Family Court from three to one, which the ministry foresees will reduce the length of the hearings, Nicolaou said, as each of the three could then take a case, speeding the process up.
Currently, the constitution outlines that three judges are needed for a divorce hearing with the participation of the Greek Orthodox Church for Orthodox marriages. For non-Orthodox marriages, the case is tried by the presiding Family Court judge and another two judges.
“For the past six years, between 800 – 850 applications for divorce were filed annually,” Nicolaou said, “with an additional 600 to 700 applications for custody, up to 450 applications for alimony and applications concerning property, adoption and legal aid, bringing the number of cases to 2,500 per year”.
The Supreme Court, the Cyprus Bar Association and family court judges appeared to be in agreement, Nicolaou said after the session, adding that a study had been conducted on the matter with the ultimate goal being the modernisation of family law.
Legal affairs committee chairman Sotiris Sampson said the committee was positive about the bill and it would be submitted to parliament immediately.
However, social worker Maria Apostolidou, who works at the Counselling Centre for Family Support appeared unconvinced that the move would save time.
“These procedures are time consuming, they cost a lot and a lot of families lose money,” she said.
The delays consequentially cause a series of financial burdens to families because “they cannot receive alimony or allowances for divorcees or single parents until they get divorced.”
Apostolidou could not see the immediate effects that reducing the number of judges would have – again due to the postponements lawyers often request – but also saying that delays are not only observed in the trial itself but in the lead up to it.
Individuals applying for state-funded legal support wait six months to get an answer that more often than not, is negative she said.
Members of the Pancyprian Association of Divorced Men also believe it won’t change a thing as it’s the lawyers that cause the delays and not the judges, they said.
“It’s a simple procedure that takes two visits to the court but instead when lawyers keep changing the dates – so they can get more money- they take much, much longer,” a spokesman for the group said.
On average, a simple case may take six months according to one member of the Association who has witnessed many such cases. When things like property are involved and the two partners are not in agreement, the case may take up to two or three years if not more.
“I don’t think it changes anything. The judge is the person that takes the decision and announces it,” not entirely convinced that having one judge on a case – thus making another two judges available for other cases – will speed up the process.
“It’s like throwing eggs on the wall.”
“Everything depends on the lawyers they just want to dig deep into our pockets.”
A bill introducing a mediation service, helping authorities intervene in regulating relations between exes whose tensions may have consequences on their children is also with the committee, Nicolaou said with experts looking into the current law so as to assess what needs to be changed to modernise the legislation.
AKEL MP Aristos Damianou reiterated the positive view everyone had on the new amendment but would want to review the final version before having an official stance on the matter. He also sought to tell Nicolaou that regulations on uncontested divorces need to be put in place as is the case in the majority of other European countries.
The committee also heard that the framework on parties and official’s source of income law should be ready by Christmas with Damianou saying parliament should revise and vote the law before the 2016 parliament elections.
In a separate move yesterday, Nicolaou announced the decision to establish a Children`s House with a view to protecting children from sexual abuse and of improving the coordination between different agencies. The move is part of the national strategy on combating sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and child pornography to be submitted to the cabinet by year end.