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.