Slovakia: International Child Abduction
Jeremy D. Morley
We have handled, with local counsel, several international family law cases concerning Slovakia, including cases of international child abduction to Slovakia. Unfortunately, the legal system in Slovakia has often been dilatory and inefficient.
The United States, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Norway have all requested Slovakia to address such problems, at least as concerns cases under the Hague Abduction Convention. As a result, Slovakia has enacted new legislation that is intended to expedite the resolution of such cases.
In its latest Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. State Department has reported as follows:
"Throughout 2015, the U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia joined chiefs of mission from the French, Irish, Italian, Spanish, and Norwegian embassies to address problems that parents experienced with the legal system in Slovakia, including a lengthy appeals process and difficulty enforcing Hague Abduction Convention return orders. The Slovak Ministry of Justice introduced new legislation that entered into force on January 1, 2016. The legislation sets a twelve week time limit for the resolution of Convention cases, limits the number of appeals, and provides for expeditious enforcement of Convention orders."
Whether the new legislation will prove to be effective remains to be seen.
Slovakia and Child Abduction
The Central Authority for the Slovak Republic under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is the Centrum pre medzinárodno-právnu ochranu detí a mládeze (Centre for International Legal Protection of Children and Youth), Spitálska 6, P.O. Box 57, 814 99 Bratislava.
Answers of the Slovak Republic to Hague Conference Questionnaire
Legislation and Court Orders
1. Please give details of any civil legislative provisions which exist in your State which may act as a deterrent to a potential abductor, or may have a preventive effect.
2. Please give details of any criminal legislative provisions which exist in your State which may act as a deterrent to a potential abductor, or may have a preventive effect.
The abduction of a child may qualify as criminal offence if the child was taken from the custodial parent. This would not qualify as an abduction if the issue of custody was not settled (as long as both parents have equal legal positions). In such a case the person(parent) could be prosecuted for the violation of other persons rights, but solely if such action was based on lying to the victim.
3. Please give details of any court orders which can be obtained during, for example, divorce or custody proceedings which prohibit, restrict or criminalise removal or retention of a child.
There are no such orders available in our system. Since such orders are not specifically foreseen by law, they would be unconstitutional if imposed by the courts. Again, the same applies as in answer to question 2.
4. Please give details of any court orders which can be obtained in emergency situations. Can these orders be obtained out-of-hours and ex parte?
The court may issue so called temporary measures. In cases of care for minor children such measures can be taken ex officio. They are taken ex parte, but cannot be obtained out-of-hours.
Under the draft amendment in preparation the court will be obliged to issue such measure relating to a child within 48 hours (the shortest time limit), in other cases the court has 7 days to render a decision. At the moment the deadline for the court is 30 days.
5. Do you have any comments relating to relocation orders?
They are unknown in our legal system.
6. Do you have any other comments relating to legislative provisions, court orders or administrative measures including any comments on the effectiveness of these provisions, and how often they are used in practice?
The present legal system in family law and procedure relating thereto still heavily reflects the provisions of the previous political regime where the system worked, mostly on the basis of administrative measures. The decision making by administrative authorities in such cases has now become problematic and the decision making is shifting towards the courts. Yet, the court system and procedure are not well adapted to the changing expectations and new practical problems which did not exist a couple of years ago.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was signed by the Slovak Republic on December 28, 1992. It was approved by Parliament and ratified, and the instrument of ratification was deposited with the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on November 7, 2000, with the reservation according to article 42 of the Convention, that the Slovak Republic will not be bound to assume any costs referred to in article 26, paragraph 2, of the Convention, resulting from the participation of legal counsel or advisers or from Slovak court proceedings, except insofar as those costs may be covered by its legal system of legal aid and advice. The Convention entered in force for the Slovak Republic on February 1, 2001.
I. Domestic Laws and Regulations Implementing the Hague Convention
In accordance with article 6, paragraph 1, the Slovak Republic has designated as the Central Authority, the Center for International Legal Protection of Children and Youth, Spitalska 6, Bratislava, Slovak Republic. The Center renders free legal aid to applicants in proceedings under the Convention before Slovak courts. According to the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, the Convention became part of the legal order of the Republic upon its approval by Parliament, its ratification, and its publication; the courts will apply it whenever called upon.
II. Domestic Laws Regarding Child Abduction and Parental Visitation
A. Child Abduction
For a decision relating to the wrongful removal and retention of a child, the competent court is the district court where the child resides by parental agreement, decision of the court, or any other reason.
This court is also competent in proceedings under the Hague Convention. The proceedings are governed by the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure. Child abduction may be prosecuted under article 216 (Abduction) of the Criminal Code, which provides that whosoever takes away a child (a person under 18) from the care of the person who has custody of him will be punished by a fine or imprisonment of up to 3 years. A parent who, for example, takes a child abroad against the will of the other parent, pretending that it is only an excursion may be prosecuted under article 209 (Abuse of rights of others) of the Criminal Code.
The punishment is a fine or imprisonment of up to 2 years.
B. Parental Visitation
For a decision relating to parental visitation, the competent court is the district court of the place where the child resides by parental agreement, decision of court, or any other reason.
This court is also competent in proceedings under the Hague Convention. The proceedings are governed by provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure.
III. Court System and Structure Courts Handling the Hague Convention
General trial courts in civil matters are the District courts; one is located in each territorial district.
Appeals against their decisions go to the Regional courts, which also have specified trial jurisdiction.
Further appeal against decisions of the Regional courts, as a court of appeal, goes to the Supreme Court, as well as appeals against their decisions in their trial jurisdiction. A further appeal against decisions of the Supreme Court, as a court of appeal for the decisions of the Regional courts, goes to another Senate of the Supreme Court. Trial courts in child-return proceedings, visitation, and enforcement of related orders under domestic Slovak law, as well under the Hague Convention, are the District courts.
In criminal matters, the structure is identical; however, because the Supreme Court, as a court of last instance, deals only with petitions alleging violation of law by lower courts and prosecutors, the Supreme Court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction is the final court of appeal.
IV. Law Enforcement System
The District courts enforce their decisions. They are immediately enforceable. With regard to decisions relating to child return, visitation, and related matters, the court may first request the obligated party to carry out the court decision voluntarily and call upon the pertinent municipal or district office of Legal Protection of Children for its assistance. If there is no result, the court may impose successive fines of 2000 crowns each (US$1= 33 crowns) on the obligated party. Acting in cooperation with the above referred to offices, the court may order the immediate enforcement of its decision by the proper state organs (court bailiffs and the police). The court acts appropriately according to the circumstances of the case. The court applies the same rules in proceedings under the Hague Convention.
V. Legal Assistance Programs
General care and protection of children, both socially and legally, are regulated by chapter 2 of the Family Code and are entrusted to the Office of Legal Protection of Children within the regional, the district, and municipal administration created by social security legislation. The Office supervises the healthy development of children and their education and protects their legitimate interests, including property interests. Any person may contact the office in these matters and request assistance. The Office cooperates with the Center for International Legal Protection of Children and Youth.
The Slovak Republic is in full compliance with the Hague Convention. The compliance is insured by the Central Authority of the Slovak Republic, the Center for International Legal Protection of Children and Youth, which holds the power of implementation and which exercises its legal powers on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in matters pertaining to the Convention.