In Ukraine, the principle of a father and mother’s equal responsibility for parenthood and support of their joint child is enshrined. The relationship between the parents should not affect their participation in the child’s life. Thus, in the case of parents’ divorce or separate residence, the principle of equal responsibility must remain unchanged. What happens in practice?

The role of men in responsible fathership has been the subject of various studies, in particular in the socio-legal sphere. Before analysing a husband role as a father in the family, there is a need to determine what constitutes responsible fatherhood. According to the accepted approach, the term “responsible parenthood” means the ability of parents (husband and wife) to define the needs and desires of their children correctly and focus their rights and responsibilities fulfilment for the children’s benefit.

According to our law, a parent who lives separately continues to bring his or her rights and duties regarding the child. In practice, in Ukraine, after the parents’ divorce, the child more often stays with the mother. Sometimes the determination of the child’s place of residence goes to a court. If so, a court must accurately investigate all the circumstances, each parent’s behaviour, take into account the child’s opinion (if they are 10 years old or older) and make decisions based on the best benefits for the child.

Notably, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) established the presumption in favour of a mother. And previously, this was unanimously applied by the courts in Ukraine. But today it is not viable anymore. If the court finds the child benefits more from living with the father and not with the mother, it has to make the decision in the father’s favour. Certainly, that forms the potential for responsible fatherhood.

I believe, judicial practice is an element that reflects the real state of responsible fatherhood in Ukraine. The opportunities and rights of men to influence the needs and desires of children, even from a  justice perspective (when an agreement with a child’s mother is not possible), give reason to believe that responsible fatherhood exists in Ukraine. Of course, some aspects of family relationships have gaps and require additional legislation, especially in the area of communication with the child. Unfortunately, mothers often ignore even court decisions regarding a period which father is to spend with his child, which negatively affects the development of responsible fatherhood.

Children interests protection

If after divorce the child lives with the mother (this takes place in the majority of cases), the father continues to participate in the support and parenthood of the child. The right to participate in parenthood is exercised through periodic or systematic meetings of the parent with the child, joint recreation, travel, etc. The obligation to support the child is fulfilled by the father through the payment of alimony and other additional expenses.

In Ukraine, there is a stereotype that in the case of separate residence of the father from the child, responsible parenthood is an equivalent of timely alimony payment in a certain amount. During the latest two years, many norms that encourage parent-payers to properly fulfil their responsibilities for child support have been enshrined in Ukrainian legislation. For example, the initiative of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine under the well-known name “There are no somebody’s else foreign” began in February 2018 and proved its efficiency in a few months after the legislative changes took place.

At the legislative level, different types of sanctions have been imposed on alimony debtors – from penalties and the seizure of debtor’s assets to deprivation of the right to drive vehicles, restrictions on traveling abroad, involvement in community jobs, and so on.

According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Justice, UAH 1.2 billion of alimony was collected in the first quarter of 2020, which is 15% more than in the same period of 2019. In the first few months of 2020, UAH 13 million of penalties were received from debtors.

The numbers speak for themselves and give grounds to state that the alimony restoration in Ukraine is implemented effectively for the benefit of children. The introduced sanctions provide an opportunity not only to compensate unpaid amounts of alimony to children but also to encourage all payers, without exception, to pay them properly and on time. Meanwhile, it is difficult to call the payment of alimony voluntary through the executive service. But this way of ensuring the children’s, even with the state influence involvement, is an important prerequisite for the responsible fatherhood formation in the state.

At the same time, responsible fatherhood is not just about paying child support. It is necessary to say a few words about the right of a father to communicate personally with his child and participate in upbringing. As I have already mentioned, in Ukraine, the child’s father, who lives separately, has the right to communicate and meet with his child personally. If, after the divorce, the parents fail to agree about the participation of the parent in the child’s upbringing, the meeting schedule, can be resolved by guardianship authority or by a court, which is the most common.

Unfortunately, the jurisprudence in the determination of the participation method in the child’s upbringing often demonstrates ambiguous and slightly dubious approaches of judges. Thus, Ukrainian courts sometimes set unreasonably short periods for the father to meet with the child (about 1 hour), schedule very rare meetings (2-3 times a month) or make meetings obligatory in permanent presence of the mother. Under such conditions, one can forget about the balance and equality of father and mother rights.

If the father and child do not have enough time to establish a close family relationship or are not left alone, the child may lose touch with the father and cease to perceive him as a full member of his or her family. Besides, this situation threatens the proper development of a child, the formation of his ideas about the family and the role of the father in it. Also, in the absence of stable and close communication with the child, the rights of the father are violated. He cannot fully participate in the child’s upbringing on par with the mother and feels like a minor. Therefore, going to court, every person should be ready to defend his or her right to communicate with the child to meet both the child and his interests.

To sum up, the principles of responsible fatherhood are gradually being formed and developed in Ukraine. The necessary legislative acts are adopted. And judicial practice is changing positively. At the same time, the problems that affect the efficient realization of the rights of both parents and children remain unresolved. Hopefully, in the coming years, the issue of responsible fatherhood in Ukraine will remain relevant, that will cause qualitative changes in legislation and case law.

Talina Kravtsova, lawyer and partner at “Asters” Law Firm

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