Newsroom / News / Media / Info Magazine LGP NEWS 02/2022 / Violence is totally unacceptable in any situation...

Violence is totally unacceptable in any situation...

Violence is totally unacceptable in any situation...

Member of the National Council Selma Yildirim (SPÖ) discusses intra-family equality, divorce-related conflict, the increasing need for protection from violence, and post-marital maintenance. The interview was conducted by LGP Managing Partner Julia Andras and Associate Andreea Muresan. 

As the SPÖ’s justice spokesperson, you are also responsible for family law issues. The pandemic has once again shown that equality is still not a given in many partnerships. How can politics bring about positive change here? 

Selma Yildirim: That’s right, the pandemic has intensified existing problems and revealed them very clearly. Equality before the law does not automatically translate to equality in every sphere. This makes it all the more important for politics to enable innovation. Of course, everyone should be free to choose his or her own life path. But real equality fails because of alleged traditional social structures. If we want to change this, we need to start with education, beginning with young children. Who says that women automatically have to do the majority of unpaid care work and that only men provide for the family? A fair division of family labour should be promoted, for example through financial incentives for shared parental leave. But, of course, many other areas play a role here as well, such as equal pay for work of equal value etc. 

Unfortunately, the number of separations or divorces has also increased during the pandemic. Children are always the ones suffering most in these situations. Nevertheless, in many family law disputes we see that parents are unable to separate their issues as a couple from their role as parents and play out the conflict through their children. Can politics intervene in a supportive way? 

The best interests of the child should always come first. This is often difficult for parents in situations where emotions dominate the separation. The concept of “shared parental responsibility” is good in theory, but in practice I am very sceptical about it. When parents are in conflict with each other, joint custody and dual residence lead to highly problematic living conditions for the children. I therefore reject a default system of this kind. Either way, guaranteed maintenance as well as clear decision-making powers are needed for the children. 

The pandemic saw rising numbers not just of separations or divorces, but also of violent disputes between spouses. Although some support facilities already exist, many (married) partners (women as well as men) seem reluctant to make use of them. Do you think there is a need for more support instruments? 

By all means, protection from violence is enormously important! Austria has the highest number of femicides in the EU. I have taken up numerous initiatives on this in the National Council. Unfortunately, I do not see the Federal Government particularly prioritising this issue. We have succeeded in ensuring that judges will be better trained regarding violence in relationships in the future. Preserving evidence in cases of domestic violence is very important in order to be able to take effective legal action. However, the governmental majority unfortunately rejected a motion to this effect. 

Many counselling institutions really do a great job despite the fact that they lack money and thus also staff. It is not acceptable that we have to keep begging for additional funds. Politics has to set priorities and protection from violence should be at the top of the list. Violence is completely unacceptable in any situation! Many women are still financially dependent on their partners. A change in this situation has so far always failed because of the ÖVP. This also makes it more difficult for affected women to defend themselves or for them to separate from a perpetrator of violence. 

Many fathers are well aware of the importance of their role. The image of today’s modern father is completely different to what it was in the 1950s or 1970s. Nevertheless, there are also “black sheep” who try to reduce their maintenance obligations by taking care of their child. After all, those who actively care for the child do not have to pay financial maintenance. In reality, the women still end up doing all the “unpleasant” things like homework, doctor’s appointments or parents’ evenings. What could be done
to change this? 

I see it the same way. This circumvention is highly problematic and it happens once again at the expense of children and also women. Given this, I am highly sceptical about dual residence and joint custody. In any case, it cannot be that both parents are responsible for childcare on paper through “shared parental responsibility”, but the woman ends up as the de facto single parent – without being entitled to make essential decisions. This leads to a reduction of maintenance payments and thus to poverty for both children and women. 

Once more on the subject of divorce: the antiquated principle of fault-based divorce is often criticized and supposed to be decoupled from post-marital maintenance. What
is your position on this? 

Personally, I am of the opinion that a post-marital maintenance claim should exist independently of a fault-based divorce. Rather, the couple’s joint life should be considered and the material and immaterial “merits” brought into the partnership during this period, and the “future opportunities” of the now separated partners should be weighed up. Based on this, it should then be ensured that there is equitable division or maintenance provision. This would make the determination of fault for separation superfluous. The same principles should also apply to cohabiting couples. 

Is post-marital maintenance still needed today in the sense of providing for the non-working wife and mother? 

The reality is that women still shoulder most of the unpaid care work today. Therefore, they have to reduce their paid working hours or stop working altogether. This leads to a life of financial dependence and, in the case of separation, to poverty in retirement at the latest. As long as we are not a truly equal society, post-marital maintenance is often indispensable. In addition, the legal standing of cohabiting couples should be enhanced in this respect. They have very few rights, although this relationship model is “chosen” increasingly. There is no protection for the “weaker” party, even in the case of a decades-long partnership, or one with children. 

This actually brings us back to the beginning. If men and women had equal rights and equal salaries, then the question of post-marital maintenance would not arise at all, would it? 

Exactly. That is and remains our goal. Unfortunately, we are still far from it. It is unfortunate that changes in this area happen so slowly.


INTERVIEW PARTNERS:

Mag. Selma Yildirim, Member of the National Council
Dr. Julia Andras, Attorney-at-Law and Managing Partner at LGP
Mag. Andreea Muresan, Associate at LGP

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