Alternating custody must be the norm, consultants say

A mother plays with her child in a playground

Photo credit: dpa

By Sarah Cames and Heledd Pritchard

Divorced parents should share custody more evenly, with alternating weekly stays between parents becoming the norm, legal experts said three years after a new Luxembourg divorce law sought to resolve childcare issues.

The divorce process was redesigned in 2018 after 15 years of political debate. The main changes included significantly faster divorce proceedings and, for the first time, changing custody.

Alternating custody, in which the parents take turns looking after the child, has become more and more popular in recent years, but should become the norm, said Charel Schmit’s child ombudsman.

“We have to reverse the logic and establish a unified, egalitarian model where exceptions are decided in court,” he said.

If alternate custody were the rule, parents who want sole custody of a child would need to seek permission from the court. The system has already been implemented in Belgium. A legal hurdle in Luxembourg is that the childcare allowance is paid to the parent who has custody.

“That would show that parents are the same and stay the same even after the separation,” said Schmit. “That would be a strong message for children.”

Since 2018, parents can assign the parental home to the caring parent for up to two years or until the youngest child is 12 years old. The judge determines the rental amount. In the four years before the reform, alternate custody became more popular, but it was still mothers who received custody “in most cases,” said lawyer Deidre Du Bois at the time.

Alternate custody would give both parents access to public housing, said Alexandra Huberty, vice president of the Luxembourg courts. This would avoid material problems from playing a role when parents decide how often they see their children, Schmit said.

A total of 1,447 couples divorced in Luxembourg last year. In 2017, the year before the revised Divorce Act came into force, 1,237 divorces were filed.

(Additional reporting by Marie Dedeban)

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