The recent amendments to Article 111 of the Constitution, the Marriage Law (Law 104/2003), the Family Courts Law (Law 23/1990) and the Law on Attempted Conciliation and Spiritual Resolution of Marriage (Law 22/1990) contributed to the urgent and long sought modernisation of the old family law, which was not in line with European and international standards.
The most important change implemented by the amendment to the Marriage Act Law is the addition of the institution of consensual divorce, which is filed jointly by the spouses. However, the possibility of filing for a consensual divorce requires (a) that at least 6 months have elapsed since the date of marriage and (b) if there are minor children, that parental responsibility and contact of the children with the parties has been arranged (Article 27 of the Marriage Law 2003 (104(I)/2003)).
Another innovative change introduced by the recent amendments is that the court may now issue an order extending the period of exclusive use and occupation of the matrimonial home by one spouse for up to two years after the dissolution of the marriage, unlike under the previous law where the order for exclusive use of the matrimonial home ceased to be effective upon divorce (Article 17 of the Family Courts Law 1990 (23/1990)).
Most of the recent amendments are aimed at simplifying family law procedures and saving court time and costs. In particular, one of the most substantial reforms was achieved by the 18th Constitutional Reform Act of 2023, which amended Article 111 of the Constitution to allow divorce cases to be heard by family courts composed of one judge instead of three. In addition, by amending the Family Courts Law, family courts can now deal with matters of parental responsibility, maintenance and the use of the family home and movable property on the basis of a single application (Article 17A of the Family Courts Law 1990 (23/1990)). This change may make a positive contribution to proceedings before the Family Courts, as until recently each matter was under a different jurisdiction and a separate application had to be filed for each matter before the Family Courts, thus creating unnecessary hassle, costs and wasted court overloads.
Further, the period within which a divorce petition can be filed with the Court has been reduced from 3 months to 6 weeks from the date of receipt of the notification by the Bishop, while the period of reconciliation is now 3 months and not 6 months as was the previous regulation. The notification can be submitted electronically through the website of the Holy Archdiocese of Cyprus. Such notice is not required in case of violence against the spouse and/or the children or the disappearance of the spouse, provided that a relevant complaint is lodged with the Police or the Social Welfare Services and a relevant certificate can be adduced to substantiate this. This development essentially allows a person who has suffered violence not to have to wait for long periods of time to be able to file for divorce.
By the new amendments, the period of separation that was required to be considered as a conclusive presumption of breakdown of marriage is reduced from four (4) to two (2) years, and violence against the spouse or child has been introduced as a ground for strong breakdown of marriage (Article 27 of Marriage Law 2003 (104(I)/2003)).
Family Courts may also make an order for counselling or psychological support for a child without the consent of the parents. Further, by amending Article 17(2) of the Marriage Law, the age limit for marriage was increased from sixteen (16) to eighteen (18) years in order to bring national legislation in line with European standards.
The above-mentioned amendments have brought about a satisfactory degree of modernisation of family law, procedures have been simplified and the new legislation is now in line with EU and international reality. The amendments introduced will have the effect of reducing the time taken to administer justice, so that procedures in such a sensitive area as family relationships can be speeded up.
By Maria Constanti
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