Perhaps the greatest achievement of Greek progressives during the past four decades was the 1983 Family Law. It jolted Greece from the Dark Ages and, quite astonishingly, ushered in a legal framework regarding marriage, divorce and custody that was far ahead of its time, even when compared to the most progressive countries at the time (including the Scandinavian countries).
For example, it banned dowries, introduced consensual divorce, established the principle of an equal division of assets that accumulated during a marriage (independently on which partner had ‘earned’ it), ensured that women kept their surnames (indeed, it made it next to impossible for wives legally to take on their husbands’ surname), made couples choose by consent the surname of their children etc.
This major shift, from a medieval to an ultra progressive Family Law, did not just happen. It took the heroic struggles of an energetic and multifaceted feminist movement to materialise. It also took the election, in October 1981, of Andreas Papandreou’s socialist party, as well as the concerted efforts of his wife – feminist leader Margaret Papandreou. Finally, the 1983 Family Law was scripted by some very able, progressive, jurists and legal experts during a period when progressive movement were dominating the Greek political terrain.
Naturally, back then, the Right (the New Democracy conservatives) fought tooth and nail against the new Family Law. They protested against the banning of dowries, campaigned to ensure property rights remained skewed toward men, opposed consensual divorce and, generally, adopted every grim patriarchal argument one could imagine.
For almost four decades the Right bid their time. Last Friday, 21st May 2021, they got their revenge on the floor of our Parliament in the form of new legislation, tabled by the current aggressively authoritarian New Democracy government. The bill in question introduced compulsory joint custody of children following an acrimonious divorce.
This means that, even if the judge finds that a parent is unfit to have custody of the child, the judge must award said partner at least ⅓ of the child’s time. Even in cases where the defective partner has been charged with abuse, the judge cannot deny said partner this minimum custody before the courts have delivered a final guilty verdict. In other words, a wife beater or child abuser retains partial custody of the child during the many months and years it takes for his prosecution to yield a conviction.
As I said in my speech in Parliament (click above for the subtitled video and/or read below), the only explanation for this incomprehensibly absurd legislation is the misogynic, antifeminist, revanchism of a Right that never forgave and never forgot the passing of the 1983 Family Law during a different period; a period during which Greek progressives were on the ascendancy.
Addressing Greece’s Parliament on 21st May 2021
Sixteen years have passed since I first saw how joint custody can make the difference.
How it can dull the pain in the process of a divorce, of a break-up. How it can support the children. How it can support the parents so they can support their children.
Allow me to speak personally, referring to events that unfolded in 2005, because the personal is political, as the feminists of the 70s taught us. It was the time when my daughter, then 15 months old, moved to Australia, with her mother of course.
During that same period, I met a couple who practised joint custody, consensually of course. A well-off couple, they walked the difficult path of a break-up with all the pain that it entails, BUT they were lucky. They had the means: two houses near each other, both featuring equivalent bedrooms to their two children, their school in close proximity to bot their homes. I freely confess I was very, very jealous of them.
The comparison with what I was experiencing at that same time was devastating. I had just become reconciled to the idea, which crushes the soul of so many fellow fathers, that we must learn to live without our child.
Even if my situation was extreme, because my daughter could not have gone further, I don’t doubt that this pain, this despair is something experienced by thousands of people out there.
So from this podium of our Parliament, I look up into the camera in front of me to look into the eyes of you fellow divorced fathers, you who were forced to drink too this poison, to reconcile also with the inhuman idea that you cannot live with your kids.
And I am telling you. Yes, from personal experience, I know:
- the pain of sitting in the car outside our child’s home, unable to walk in at will
- the anger that grows inside you at the thought – true or untrue – that someone is using your child against you
- the injustice of being told that it is in the child’s interest that it doesn’t grow up with you
- the sadness that you have systematically to yield on things that you consider of substance so that the child isn’t caught in the crossfire one more time
- the powerlessness brought on by the inability to teach your child things you know and which you think it should know but which you just can’t teach her or him during the odd weekend or the short holidays you spend together
- the feeling that important decisions are taken behind your back.
I remember the suffocation induced by the thought that, were I to go to family court to petition for custody or even joint custody, I would lose.
I will be honest with you: If I had had a button I could push to have my daughter with me 100% of the time, I’d push it. If I had another button that would give me 50% of the time, I’d push it. If I had a button that would give me a third of the time, I’d push it. Without a second thought.
BUT, colleagues, it is one thing what I want. And it is quite another thing what I want the state to do, or not to do, in my name – on my behalf.
I remember a conversation with a supporter of the death sentence back when, once upon a time, we lived in Texas, in the #1 state for executions. He asked: “If they rape and kill your daughter or wife, wouldn’t you kill the murderer, the rapist?” Without thinking I replied: “I’d want to strangle him with my bare hands”. But immediately I added: “However, I don’t want to live in a country, an organised society that allows me to do so. And I don’t want to live in an organised society that murders him on my behalf.”
The very same applies to joint custody: Yes, I wanted it for me, fervently. As do many others. But if joint custody is not consensual, then no, I wouldn’t want society to impose it on my behalf. I would never want a state to legislate that which I want in my anger and despair.
There is a difference between a wish and its imposition through private or state coercion.
The most beautiful things, when they are imposed, turn into monsters.
Take love. Take sex. When it occurs naturally it’s the most beautiful thing on earth. But when it is imposed, through violence, it becomes rape.
Same goes for joint custody of children after a divorce. If joint custody happens consensually,
it’s an oasis in the misery of break-up. But if the state imposes joint custody, it becomes a farce. It becomes a violation of logic, with the child as its victim.
I say it again: I fervently wanted joint custody. But simultaneously I understood, with pain and even with fury, I don’t hide it, that it was RIGHT to not have rights as a father. Only my daughter had rights.
Joint custody equals collaboration. And collaboration cannot be imposed by law. It would be brilliant if every child of divorced parents had bedrooms in two equivalent houses, both close to her or his school, so that she or he can spend one week with one parent, one week with the other parent, slowly acquiring the right – at around 12 to 14 – to have a say on how to divide her or his time between the two parents/homes.
Yes, this would be brilliant. However no lawmaker, no judge, no state mechanism can impose such a regime. As long as the state cannot provide such evenly balanced resources, as long as the judges and the social workers cannot provide both parents with the time and material capacities to deliver this beautiful framework, joint custody cannot be dictated by the Law in a manner that removes a judge’s discretionary power.
I now want to come to the fear of the so-called (in your Bill) “alienation” of the child from
the divorced father. I don’t deny it: I harboured this fear. As I watched at the airport my daughter leave for Australia, to a place so far away, I did have this fear.
Fortunately it proved – and I’m sure it happens in all such situations – that my fear was foolish.
Dear colleagues, children do NOT get alienated from fathers who love them, irrespectively of how much time they spend apart.
A coupe of days ago, my daughter Xenia turned 17.
17 years of separation.
17 years during which I got to use Skype years before any of you did – because I used it to tell her bedtime stories, watching her fall asleep on my screen – as far back as 2005.
I’m not denying it was difficult to keep in touch. Especially when she grew up. We tried hard to see each other 3, maybe 4, times a year. You can imagine what that means in terms of distance, expense, fatigue… We managed. Let me add that this pandemic has hit us hard . For the first time, we haven’t met in over a year and we don’t know when we shall meet again, given that Australian borders will remain closed till mid-2022, according to Australia’s Prime Minister. Nevertheless, despite that, I must say that, maybe because of this distance, we are maybe closer, more linked, than if we had lived together.
Not without losses, of course. There has not been a day in 17 years when we’re apart that isn’t marked by the thought “another day without you”. We count the days till the next meeting, and when we’re together, we
count the days till we must part again.
Ladies and gentlemen, while separation is tough, it does not validate the fear of ‘alienation’, the fake theory of the child-father alienation.
Mr Minister, Members of the government,
When there is no consensual path to joint custody, there should be family courts with specialised judges, far from the conventional courts, in specially designed buildings teaming psychologists, social workers who help maximise the chances of consent, of custody arrangements that are as joint as they benefit the children. With the only and absolute criterion being the protection of their rights.
Instead of such costly family courts, what your government is doing today is: You are changing the law. Which law?
The Family Law of 1983, which remains until today an example to follow, a monument to progressive legislation and to rationality.
From this podium of our Parliament, I want to pay tribute to the women’s organisations who struggled so hard in the 1970s to make the Family Law of 1983 a reality.
I shall refer to the Greek Women’s Federation (OGE), the Movement of Democratic Women (KDE), the Greek Women’s Union (EGE), and certainly to Margarita Papandreou, who deserves accolades for her contribution because I know personally how much she has contributed to the cause. And, of course, to the independent, autonomous feminists movement. To the way the entire political system – the progressive one, not the political space that you of the Right were never part of, as steadfast supporters of anything grim and regressive, as evidenced by the fact that in 1983 you voted against that EXCELLENT bill and supported DOWRIES even then. So, don’t forget who you are! Be aware of your crimes, of your guilt!
So today you appear before us to wreck this splendid Family Law authored by a Magakis, a Maragopoulou, a Manesis, a Kasimatis – the very law which you had voted against at the time. Today you come to “amend” it.
You asked: Aren’t there any problems with the existing custody regime? Of course there are, countless ones. But, the problems have nothing to do with our Family law. The problems are with its application. With judicial practice and process. But what do you choose to do? You choose not to confront the countless existing problems and, instead, to create new problems with this disgusting bill which consciously turns a beautiful wish into an ugly state imposition.
In this you resemble the extremist ringleaders of American anti-abortionists. The huge paradox in that situation, of the antiabortionist women and men, is the following: The very same people who fight for the
embryo’s right to life, even if it’s the result of rape, are dead against everything that could improve
the life of a child born into an underprivileged family. Such as free education, free healthcare, decent wages at the workplace when it grows up and starts working.
Similarly with you. Your compulsory joint custody legislation suffers from the same paradox: You, who speak in favour of joint custody, you are NOT interested in the creation and staffing of the family courts which maximise the chances of consensual joint custody.
I am again looking into the camera, because I want once more to look divorced fathers in the eye. And I tell you this: Our pain as divorced fathers is unbearable, I know it.
But, let be honest: We males are also paying the price for living in a deeply sexist, patriarchal society.
Here’s why (something that most men refuse to acknowledge) feminism does not concern only women and their emancipation. Feminism is about the demolition of a power system whose victims are also men! Especially sensitive men.
So the solution is not to join the Mitsotakis government’s new anti-feminism. The solution is to build a polity that supports finding consensual solutions; not one which enacts patriarchy’s revanchism. A patriarchal revanchism which, as also Ms Yannakou mentioned, to her credit, enlists deep pockets, deep oligarchic pockets for the promotion of your Bill. Independently of whether you believe in your bill Minister, and I’m sure you believe in it, the pockets supporting your campaign are too deep to be honest, as we see in expensive posters at every bus stop.
The solution, for us, as MeRA25, is the New Feminism that governs our party – the New Feminism that continues in the steps of the previous feminism of the 1970s, which gave rise to the Family Law of 1983. A New Feminism which today fights your bill, Mr Minister.
Finally, Mr Speaker, dear colleagues,
I do not need to stress to you that laws are not written for good people. They are not written for citizens who do right and don’t need to the law to force them. Family Law is written for the divorced couples who can’t agree with one another. It is also written for those who cannot make do – who have problems of personal, psychological and economic survival.
Joint custody, which is something precious, which I wish it on all divorced couples – I’m saying this with all my soul – joint custody requires collaboration. It requires understanding. But collaboration and understanding cannot be imposed by lawmakers and judges. Collaboration and understanding are nurtured with the help of public institutions which you DON’T want to create. These public institutions go against your DNA!
Let me remind you – I’m sure you remember, but I shall remind you nevertheless – that in the introduction of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are unhappy each in their own way. The same applies to divorced couples who fail to collaborate: Every one of them creates different forms of misery for their children. And society has a duty to confront every one of them individually, without one-size-fits-all templates, without ad hoc restrictions to the judges’s discretionary power.
Your Bill aggravates the misery of the miserable couples and, yes, of their children. The only reason you are bringing it to the House is so as to satisfy the Right’s revanchism against the emblematic Family Law of 1983 – the one you fought acrimoniously then, and which you are targeting now.
Mr Minister, Members of the government,
Today you are writing yet another black page in your party’s black and web-infested chronicles. Without even caring that the cost of this revanchism and of your misogynist folly, will be paid by innocent children.
Good night, Mr Minister.
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