The government in the Republic of Cyprus is reviving attempts to reform marriage law, with legislation proposals aiming to modernize divorce proceedings, eliminate outdated laws, and prevent child marriages that could violate statutory rape laws.
Justice Minister Stefi Dracou attended a House legal affairs committee on marriage reform this week, signaling a new round of talks after years of impasse and false starts.
Dracou presented a bundle of four bills that aim to bring different marriage laws under the same family domain, including the protection of minors.
Concerns of statutory rape in married couples
The first bill proposal raises the minimum marriage age from 16 to 18, due to concerns of statutory rape after Child Commissioner Despo Michaelidou warned that legal age for consenting to sexual intercourse in the Republic of Cyprus was 17.
Another bill introduces mutual consent divorce after six months of matrimony, essentially helping couples avoid long-drawn-out court battles. The proposal calls for a hearing before a judge to take place after a three-month waiting period from the time of filing for divorce.
Another proposal brings the number of judges from three down to one, with family court taking over all divorce cases including those filed within religious groups that are currently being handled by district courts.
One bill eliminates the requirement that a bishop be notified of a couple’s intent to get a divorce, with the government favoring either doing away with the requirement or making it optional
According to Dracou, the family court judge must meet a “higher set of minimum qualifications in order to ensure the arbitrator will have a broader understanding of divorce cases” before him or her.
A final bill eliminates the requirement that a bishop be notified of a couple’s intent to get a divorce, with the minister saying the government favored either doing away with the requirement or making it optional for the spouses to decide.
Currently in the Republic of Cyprus a law still on the books requires that a letter be sent to the church to notify intent of divorce, as part of the legal proceedings, with the minister clarifying that this has become a formality.
“But if violence is the reason for seeking divorce, then there will be no stipulation for sending such a letter” to the church, Dracou told the House committee.
The legislation package has not been without criticism even from supporters of the bill bundle, with the Child Commissioner saying mutual consent divorce ought not to be tied to court battles over child custody.
Michaelidou also criticized a provision for divorce consultation, saying this should not be applied in cases of married minors, with the commissioner also adding that that children affected by both violence and divorce proceedings should be placed in safe environments before a criminal conviction takes place.