Which are the competent courts in relation to family matters?
The majority of cases relating to family issues such as divorce, parental care and maintenance are resolved by the Family Courts. However, Family Courts are not the only competent courts for some of the said issues. In some cases the competent courts are the Family Courts of the Religious Groups or the President of the District Court.
- Mixed couples and Family Courts' jurisdiction
The Family Courts have jurisdiction in relation to the following (article 11 Law No.23/1990):
- The dissolution of any religious marriage of any other faith, provided that the Family Courts of the Religious Groups do not have jurisdiction in relation to such dissolution;
- The dissolution of any civil marriage;
- Family matters in judicial proceedings initiated by the treaties to which Cyprus is a signatory country;
- Matters of parental care, maintenance, acknowledgement of paternity, adoption, property relations between spouses as well as any other matrimonial or family dispute.
An important condition for the Family Courts to have jurisdiction is that the parties or one of the parties must be resident in Cyprus. Residence means any continuous period of stay in excess of three months (article 11(3) Law No.23/1990). However, when the dispute involves property then there is no need for the parties or one of the parties to have residence in Cyprus.
In some cases the competent courts for some of the said issues are not the Family Courts but the Family Courts of the Religious Groups or even the President of the District Court as indicated below.
Family Courts of the Religious Groups
According to article 2.3 of the Constitution, 3 Religious Groups are recognised in Cyprus namely the Armenian, the Maronite and the Latin Community. The members of these religious groups must all be Cypriot citizens. The Family Courts of the Religious Groups have jurisdiction in relation to the dissolution of any religious marriage which was celebrated according to the canons of a religious group and it doesn't matter whether both spouses belong in the same religious group. However, in order for these Courts to have jurisdiction over civil marriages, the spouses must belong to the same religious group. Finally, the Family Courts of the Religious Groups have jurisdiction to award a spouse with the exclusive use of the matrimonial home (article 2b and 21(1) Law No.87(I)/1994).
President of the District Court
In relation to Turkish Cypriots, the President of the District Court is the appropriate authority for matters relating to the dissolution of civil marriage celebrated in Cyprus, the maintenance of spouses and the maintenance and custody of minors (Law No.120(I)/2003).
May a spouse apply for a divorce at any time?
In relation to the dissolution of civil marriage, a spouse can apply directly to the court for the issuing of the divorce. In contrast, in case of a religious marriage, the spouse who wants a divorce must, first of all, send a notification to the Bishop (or to the religious leader when the couple belongs to one of the three recognised religious groups) stating the grounds for the divorce. The Bishop (or the religious leader) will then try to reconcile the couple. The divorce petition can be filled only after the elapsed of a three month period from the time when the Bishop (or the religious leader) had received the notification (Law No.22/1990 and Law No.87(I)/1994).
What are the grounds for divorce?
A ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marital relationship for reasons which are attributed to the respondent or to both spouses and which makes the continuance of the marital relationship intolerable for the applicant. According to Cyprus law bigamy, adultery, abandonment, violence and an attempt against the life of the applicant by the respondent are revocable presumptions for the irretrievable breakdown of the marital relationship (article 27(2) and 27(3) Law No.104(I)/2003, appendix A Law No.87(I)/1994, article 14(a) Law No.23/1990).
Another ground for divorce is the continuous separation for a period of four years which constitutes an irrevocable presumption that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marital relationship. In that case the marriage is dissolved regardless whether the reason leading to the irretrievable breakdown is attributed solely to the applicant (article 27(3) Law No.104(I)/2003, appendix A Law No.87(I)/1994, article 14(a) Law No.23/1990).
Furthermore, the change of sex of the respondent, the abandonment of the applicant and an attempt against the life of the applicant by the respondent constitute independent grounds for divorce (article 27(4) Law No.104(I)/2003).
Finally, if the spouses belong to the Greek Orthodox Church the marriage can also be dissolved for any of the reasons found in the Charter of the Holy Orthodox Church (article 111 2B of the Constitution, article 27(2) Law No.104(I)/2003). Such grounds include, inter alia, infidelity, immoral or disgraceful behavior, insanity and disappearance. In case of spouses belonging to one of the three religious groups then the marriage can also be dissolved for the reasons listed in Law No.87(I)/1994 (e.g infidelity, violence against the applicant, disappearance, insanity).
Relations between spouses before and after the issuing of the divorce
Can a spouse claim the exclusive use of the matrimonial home even when the married couple is separated but not yet divorced?
Cyprus law permits a spouse to apply for the exclusive use of the matrimonial home in case of separation and regardless of who owns the home. The Court in making a decision will take into account equity as well as the particular circumstances of each spouse and the best interests of their children. The violent behavior of the respondent spouse is also an important factor which will be taken into account by the Court. The Court may grant the exclusive use of the whole or part of the dwelling that is used as the matrimonial home. The decision of the Court can be reviewed when this is imposed by the circumstances surrounding the case and the decision ceases to have effect when the divorce is issued (article 17(1) of Law No.23/1990).
Is a spouse entitled to maintenance before the issuing of the divorce?
A spouse may claim maintenance during the separation even before the divorce is issued. The spouse entitled to maintenance is the one in the worst financial position. The Family Courts may issue either a maintenance order covering the needs of the beneficiary in full (full/complete maintenance) in cases where the beneficiary is unable to generate any income or a maintenance order covering part of the needs of the beneficiary when he/she has some income (supplementary maintenance). The maintenance order ceases to have effect when the divorce is issued (article 4(1) Law No.232/1991).
Can a former spouse be ordered to pay spousal maintenance?
The issuing of a divorce doesn't cease a former spouse's obligation to support the other former spouse. In cases where the former spouse is unable to support himself/herself from his/her income or other income streams he/she can apply for a maintenance order. The amount is calculated according to the needs of the beneficiary taking into account his/her standard of living before the divorce and includes all the necessities for the sustenance of the beneficiary. Furthermore, it is possible for the maintenance order to include a thirteenth or fourteenth monthly payment of maintenance in cases where the spouse against whom the order is issued receives a thirteenth or fourteenth month pay (article 5 and 7 Law No.232/1991).
Are there any reasons excluding or reducing the spousal maintenance?
The maintenance may be excluded or reduced when this is imposed by serious reasons and especially when the marriage was short-term or when the beneficiary spouse voluntarily caused his/her poverty or when the beneficiary bears serious fault for the dissolution of the marriage and/or for the interruption of the cohabitation (article 6 Law No.232/1991).
Is the spousal maintenance order subject to modification?
Each of the spouses can apply to the court to modify or even annul the maintenance order. Depending on the circumstances, the maintenance amount may be decreased or increased. The maintenance order can be modified, for example, if the financial status of the beneficiary improves or if the financial status of the debtor worsens. Under a 2008 amendment, the amount now automatically rises by 10% every 2 years (article 4(2) and 10 Law No.232/1991).
In any case, the spousal maintenance order ceases to have effect if the beneficiary remarries or if he/she is cohabiting with someone else. The order might also cease to have effect if the beneficiary dies or if the order is annulled by the court (article 11 Law No.232/1991).
In case of separation or divorce, how a spouse might be entitled to a share in the assets acquired during the course of marriage?
In case of separation or divorce, a spouse who has contributed in any way towards the increase of the assets of the other spouse is entitled to the part of the increase which emanates from his/her contribution. "Assets" means the movable or immovable property which was acquired by any of the spouses before the marriage with the prospect of marriage or during the course of marriage. Τhe contribution of a spouse is presumed to the 1/3 of the increase except if it is otherwise proven. In assessing the increase of assets the Court will not take into account anything that was acquired by way of gift, inheritance or bequest (article 14 Law No.232/1991).
Parental care and Child Maintenance
What can be done in cases of a dispute between the parents regarding the exercise of the parental care?
The parental care is a right and at the same time a responsibility of the parents which is exercised jointly by them. When the parents dispute over the exercise of the parental care and the best interests of the child requires a decision to be made, then either parent can apply to Court in order for the dispute to be resolved. The decisions made by the parents or by the Court should aim at the best interests of the child. Furthermore, the court shall consider the child's wishes provided that he/she is mature (article 6 and 7 Law No.216/1990).
When a couple is separated or divorced, how the exercise of parental care will be regulated?
When a couple is separated or divorced the exercise of parental care is regulated by the Court unless agreed between the parties. Particularly the court may assign parental care to one parent or to both if they agree as to the place of residence of the child. Furthermore the Court may allocate parental care between the parents or may assign it to a guardian. The Court will take into account the child's relationship with each parent and his/her brothers and sisters and the existence of any agreement between the parents in relation to the custody of the child (article 14 and 15 Law No.216/1990).
An order regulating parental care can be modified or recalled by the Court. For this purpose, either of the parents or the Director of the Social Welfare Services must make an application to the Court. For the application to succeed, it must be proven that the circumstances have been changed since the issuing of the order regulating parental care (article 20 Law No.216/1990).
What are the rights of the parent with whom the child doesn't live?
It's for the best interests of a child to keep in touch with both parents. The parent with whom the child doesn't live has the right of personal communication with the child. The exercise of the said right may be regulated by the Court in case of dispute between the parents and the criterion is the welfare of the child (article 17 Law No.216/1990).
Could the grandparents of a child claim communication rights?
Cyprus law safeguards the right of the grandparents to communicate with the child. According to the law, no one has the right to obstruct the personal communication of the child with his/her grandparents, except where a serious reason exists relating to the best interests of the child. The Court may regulate the exercise of this right after a related application is made (article 17A Law No.216/1990).
Can a parent be obliged to pay maintenance to his/her child?
Parents have the obligation to support their child jointly and according to their powers. A parent or the beneficiary or the Director of the Social Welfare Services may apply to the Court in order for the maintenance payable to the child to be regulated (article 33 and 36 Law No.216/1990). The amount of maintenance is calculated according to the needs of the beneficiary taking into consideration the standard of living before the separation and the income generated by the parents. Furthermore, maintenance includes all the necessities for the sustenance and welfare of the child as well as the expenses for the child's education. Where the parent against whom the order is issued receives a thirteenth or fourteenth month pay, the maintenance order may also include a thirteenth or fourteenth monthly payment of maintenance (article 37 Law No.216/1990).
Is it possible for a child maintenance order to be modified?
A child maintenance order can be modified provided that there has been a change in the circumstances that existed at the time the order was issued. The court may modify the order and decrease or increase the amount of maintenance or even relieve the person that has to pay maintenance from a further fulfillment of his/her obligations. The modification may be ordered, for example, if the needs of the beneficiary increased or if the income capacity of the parent that has to pay maintenance has changed. Finally, the amount of maintenance increases automatically by 10% every two years (article 38 Law No.216/1990).
Is an adult child entitled to maintenance?
The obligation of the parents to support their child may continue even after the child reaches adulthood in cases where this is imposed by special circumstances. This may happen, for example, when the child attends an educational institution or during his service in the National Guard (article 33(2) Law No.216/1990).
A maintenance order is necessary so that parents will be obligated to pay maintenance to their adult child. Furthermore, any income of the child will be taken into account in order for the Court to determine the amount of maintenance that is payable by the parents.
Is it possible for the biological father of a child born outside marriage to be obligated to pay maintenance or even to exercise rights relating to parental care?
The parental care of a child born outside marriage is exercised by the mother of the child. In order for the biological father to be obligated to pay maintenance or to have the right to exercise parental care, he must recognise the child as his own child (article 16 Law No.216/1990). This can be done either by "voluntary recognition" or by "judicial recognition". The "voluntary recognition" requires the filling of an affidavit by the mother and the biological father in the court registrar. Regarding the "judicial recognition", the court will decide who the father of the child is and accordingly who will be obligated to pay maintenance and who has the right to exercise parental care (article 16, 17 and 20 Law No.187/1991).
Which are the enforcing measures of a maintenance order?
The maintenance orders are enforced as monetary penalties (article 12 Law No.232/1991 and article 40 Law No.216/1990). The beneficiary must make an affidavit in the court registrar requiring the recovery of the amount due. Afterwards, the person obligated to pay the maintenance is summoned to court and he/she has the right to be heard. However, if he/she doesn't pay, the court will order his/her imprisonment. Regarding the spousal maintenance it must be noted that any amount due for a period of time more than two years cannot be recovered (article 9(3) Law No.232/1991).
What can be done in cases where urgent circumstances impose the immediate issue of a decision in relation to the issues raised above?
The issues raised above, except from the divorce proceedings, can be brought to court ex parte i.e without notification of the respondent. After the filing of a petition in Family Court, the applicant may file an ex parte application asking for the immediate issue of an interim order. This can be done when there is an urgent need for a decision to be taken e.g an ex parte application to the Court for an urgent spousal/child maintenance order. The issuing of an interim order is an exceptional measure and the applicant must prove that there are exceptional and urgent circumstances. Furthermore, the following conditions must be satisfied: a.) a serious issue to be tried, b.) possibility for success and c.) that it would be difficult or impossible for justice to be served at a later stage without granting the interim order (article 32 Law No.14/1960). After the issuing of the interim order, it must be served to the respondent and then he/she may appear to the Court and file an objection. The Court will then decide whether the interim order will remain in force until the final settlement of the dispute or whether it should be annulled.
Can a judgment related to family matters and issued by a foreign court be enforced in Cyprus?
A decision issued by a court of a foreign country can be enforced in Cyprus provided that the Republic of Cyprus has concluded or is connected with an agreement for mutual recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions with the country issuing the decision (Law No.121(I)/2000). If the country issuing the decision is an EU Member State, then the enforcement will be effected using the mechanisms founded by EU Regulations. EU Regulation 4/2009 relates to maintenance obligations and EU Regulation 2201/2003 relates to matrimonial issues such as divorces and parental responsibility.
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