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Italy considering polarizing new rules for divorce, child custody

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-09-27 14:17
People take part to the Fancy Women Bike Ride on Sept 23, 2018 in Milan, Italy. [Photo/Agencies]

ROME - Italy, which already has one of Europe's most restrictive set of rules governing divorce, is mulling a set of rules that could make the process even more challenging for those involved.

Divorce only became legal in Italy in 1970, and even now couples who wish to end their marriages can do so only after filing a formal statement on the reasons for the divorce and a trial separation period.

The process of dividing assets is complicated, sometimes including mediation and counseling. Child custody law generally favor the mother unless she is demonstrably unfit to be a parent.

If the Five-Star Movement -- the populist, anti-establishment party and one of the two parties that make up the Italian government -- has its way the process could become even more onerous.

The Five-Star Movement's proposal, which political analysts say is likely to become law in some form, would eliminate child support payments and remove custody from parents who speak badly about the other parent.

In lieu of child support payments the plan would require the children of divorced parents to spend precisely half the time with each parent, with each parent responsible for expenses incurred while with the child.

If one parent cannot pay for something the child needs, the proposal says, the wealthier parent would pay directly for that expense, rather than handing the money over to the less-wealthy former spouse. The proposal calls this idea "perfect co-parenting".

As it is, most children of divorced parents spend most of their time with the mother, with the father paying for child support at a level determined by the courts or mediation.

Supporters of the law say it will remove a bias toward mothers when a couple separates and eliminate the possibility that child support payments would be used to help cover expenses not directly related to the child.

But critics have been vocal, saying the proposal discriminates against mothers and, because it would make divorce more painful, it could act as an incentive for couples to remain in bad marriages or for them not to marry at all.

"A law like this would undo many of the advances women in Italy have made over the last generation," Manuela Ulivi, a family law attorney and president of the Home for Abused Women in Milan, told Xinhua. "Very few advanced countries have policies that would treat women's rights in the way."

Nadia Somma, from Demetra, an anti-domestic violence shelter in Turin went even further: "If this enters into force it would turn the clock back on women's rights 50 years," Somma wrote after the proposed law was released.

But Paolo Scotti, a psychologist and president of MEDEFitalia, an association of mediators, told Xinhua the details of the proposed law will determine its impacts.

"We really have to see what the final law will say," Scotti said. "Yes, it will give more power to what parents decide when they sit down and talk in a mediation process. People ask me: will this make divorce even more difficult? If it does, maybe it will make couples put more thought into whether or not to get married and have children."

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