Case law Developments in PIL

English Custody Orders Violate Greek Public Policy if the Parents Form a Same-Sex Couple

The Court of First Instance of Thessaloniki ruled on 24 June 2020 that an application by a psychological (non biological) mother to recognize and declare enforceable a UK custody order concerning a child born by the applicant’s partner contravenes Greek public policy (Ruling No. 6175, unreported).

Facts

The applicant [A] is a woman of Greek and American nationality. Her partner was a woman of American nationality [P]. They registered their partnership in the UK on 20 August 2013. Nearly a month later, P. gave birth to a child. The partners married in January 2015.

A. filed an application for child custody and parenting arrangements order in the UK. The court granted the application, and ordered that the child stays with the psychological mother on the basis of previous decisions concerning parental responsibility rights issued in the same country. In addition, the court ordered that the child reside with A., and it issued an order to remove the child permanently to Greece. Finally, the same court arranged the contact rights of the biological mother [P]. The information given in the Greek judgment is that the UK order was issued by the High Court – Family Division in Chelmsford, and that it was final. A. filed an application for the recognition and enforcement of the UK order before the Court of First Instance in Thessaloniki.

The Ruling

The Court of Thessaloniki began by acknowledging its jurisdiction and venue for the case at hand. It then entered into an analysis of the public policy defence, culminating in the conclusion, that the forum judge is obliged to defend national public policy, while at the same time demonstrating respect towards the state’s international obligations. To that end, a proportionality test of the domestic public policy with Article 8 ECHR standards is imperative. Following the above introduction, the court rushed to declare that same-sex marriage, and any subsequent relations emanating thereof are not allowed in Greece.

Public Policy

The first point raised by the court was a contradiction of the English order with established perceptions of Greek family law. By invoking Article 33 Greek Civil Code, i.e. the public policy defence in domestic Private International Law, the court held that Greek family law grants parental responsibility rights to the mother, if the child was born out of wedlock. In addition, the court stated that in the given situation, it was the biological mother who should be granted custody rights.

The second point raised by the court referred to the fundamental choice made by the domestic legislator and the Supreme Court, i.e. the prohibition of same-sex marriage. The public policy defence is the guarantor of this premise: Hence, an ontological change of a legal relationship within the country of destination, caused by the recognition of a foreign decision, affects state sovereignty. For a domestic standpoint, it is not acceptable to grant maternity rights to two women. It is also unbearable for the court that the birth of the child is a product of a same-sex marital relationship, which does not produce any legal effects in Greece.

In addition, the court held that the best interests of the child may not guarantee the preservation of a parental relationship with the biological mother, the latter being a situation not protected under Greek law. The bond worthy of protection emanates from constitutional provisions (equality / personality rights), the Fundamental Rights Charter, EU and ECHR standards. Consequently, the court ruled that the recognition and enforcement of the UK order would distort the legal pace of the country, because it is contrary to core domestic values and perceptions.

Assessment

The judgment follows a hard line under the strong influence of the harsh position taken by the Greek Supreme Court against same-sex couples. The factual situation is obviously not shaking the court’s foundation; even the best interests of the child did not motivate the court to soften its position. Hence, the child will have two mothers in the UK, and no mother in Greece.

What is also striking is the omission of the court to approach the matter from its European point of view. Out of the abundant material of legal scholarship, European and domestic case law concerning the matter, I will focus on the Coman case, which decided as follows:

In a situation in which a Union citizen has made use of his freedom of movement by moving to and taking up genuine residence, in accordance with the conditions laid down in Article 7(1) of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States amending Regulation (EEC) No 1612/68 and repealing Directives 64/221/EEC, 68/360/EEC, 72/194/EEC, 73/148/EEC, 75/34/EEC, 75/35/EEC, 90/364/EEC, 90/365/EEC and 93/96/EEC, in a Member State other than that of which he is a national, and, whilst there, has created or strengthened a family life with a third-country national of the same sex to whom he is joined by a marriage lawfully concluded in the host Member State, Article 21(1) TFEU must be interpreted as precluding the competent authorities of the Member State of which the Union citizen is a national from refusing to grant that third-country national a right of residence in the territory of that Member State on the ground that the law of that Member State does not recognise marriage between persons of the same sex.

The case, of course, was not concerned with recognition of foreign judgments, but the rationale seems to make it relevant in this respect as well.

There are two more instances available for the applicant to alter the landscape. A first sign of progress has been already reported. It will be interesting to follow the developments and to report in due time.

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