Spanish women's groups attack reform of child-custody rules

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The Independent Online

The Spanish government gave the green light yesterday to a reformed divorce law that threatens to divide the country along gender lines, with women's groups criticising it as potentially harmful to children from broken homes.

The Spanish government gave the green light yesterday to a reformed divorce law that threatens to divide the country along gender lines, with women's groups criticising it as potentially harmful to children from broken homes.

The draft law approved by socialist ministers proposes a simpler, quicker divorce procedure that will ease the log-jam of cases. The country's divorce rate has grown by 33 per cent in the past two years.

The white paper also introduces the revolutionary concept of joint custody for children of divorced couples: parents may decide to care for their children jointly, or agree that one or other take responsibility. The possibility for shared custody follows from the proposal to eliminate blame, or fault, as a cause for divorce. Under the existing 1981 law, children are assigned to the wronged partner; the guilty party automatically loses custody, "which provokes unnecessary suffering", the white paper says.

But the feminist Association of Women Jurists condemned this aspect of the reform as harmful for children. "Little ones need security, a reference point, one home not two," the association's spokeswoman, Angela Alemany, said. "Trailing their belongings from one bedroom to another could provoke emotional insecurity."

Separated fathers welcomed the provision for joint custody. "It is an extremely important step forward," said Juan Luis Rubio, head of the Association of Separated Fathers.

The Justice Minister, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, insisted yesterday that the reform did not impose joint custody, but sought to protect children's rights and "guarantee the rights of the injured party".

The reform removes the separation period as a precondition for divorce, and removes the need to give a cause. This means either partner can seek a divorce without declaring a cause after three months of marriage.

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