Cyprus law recognises an obligation of parents to support their husband/wife if they have custody of their children, through an alimony/maintenance order issued by the Cyprus Family Court.
It has recently introduced new rules that aim to tackle the phenomenon of non-payment of alimony/maintenance by parents against whom an alimony/maintenance order has been issued by a Cyprus Family Court. The new legislative framework follows recent guidance by the Cyprus Supreme Court, which criticised the previous framework and practice of the Family Courts to issue warrants of arrest through a summary process in case of default of payment of alimony/maintenance despite a Court order.
According to the previous practice, the Family Courts issued orders of arrest against any person disobeying an alimony/maintenance order, on the basis of a simple affidavit by the person entitled to the alimony, confirming in writing that such default had indeed occurred. Upon the issuance of such a warrant of arrest, the Police authorities were mandated to enforce the warrant and they did so, unless the respondent paid the outstanding alimony amounts.
The Cyprus Supreme Court ruled that the issuance of an order for arrest through this process violated the fundamental right to be heard, as the defendant was not given the opportunity to be heard prior to the issuance of a warrant of arrest against him/her. By the addition of Article 124A in the Criminal Code, the new legal framework provides that, where a person fails to comply with an alimony/maintenance order issued by a Cyprus Family Court, the person in whose favor the order was issued may complete and file to the Registry of the Cyprus Family Court an affidavit requesting the issuance of warrant of imprisonment against that person who failed to comply with the referred order.
Once so, the affected party is notified in writing to appear before the Court at a specified date, no later than fifteen (15) days thereon, in order to be heard on whether he has indeed omitted payment and be given the opportunity to explain the reasons for such failure. The Family Court, after giving the right to the affected person to appear before it and be heard, may then issue a committal order against the defaulting party, up and until full payment of the outstanding amounts representing alimony for his/her own children. It is further provided that, if the affected person refuses or neglects to appear before the Court on the specified date, a warrant of arrest will be automatically issued against him and executed by the Police Authorities.
Undoubtedly, the new legal framework balances in a fairer way the rights of the parties and the interests of justice: the procedure is efficient, it gives the right of the parties to be heard, ensures compliance to Court orders and provides effective measures for securing payment of alimony to children of defaulting parents. Issues remain as to the enforcement of an alimony/maintenance payment in a cross-border situation.
For example, if the ex-spouses are living in different countries, the obvious question in case of a dispute is which country has jurisdiction and how a judgment on alimony/maintenance can be declared enforceable in another country. Within the European Union, the matter is much simplified by reason of the operation of Council Regulation (EC) No 4/2009, which provides a series of measures aimed at facilitating the payment of maintenance claims in cross-border situations.