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Abusive fathers

Denying violent men the custody of their children is essential if we are to protect minors

Spanish law still allows for a man convicted of violent or threatening behavior toward his partner to be given the exclusive custody of their children in the event of divorce or separation. It also allows men convicted of gender-specific violence to inherit their wives' or partners' property, money, and goods, even if they were responsible for their death.

Such eventualities are clearly an insult to decency, and go against all logic. The government intends to rectify the situation. It would seem that the opposition Popular Party supports the proposed changes to the law, and even presented a motion to Congress a few weeks ago with the aim of bringing about just such a reform.

It is surprising to say the least that judges continue to award custody to fathers convicted of mistreatment of their spouses or partners in the event of divorce or separation. More to the point, this risk has been the reason on many occasions for women deciding not to bring divorce proceedings against the men putting their lives at risk. Just 13 percent of women who have reported their husbands or partners for having attacked them physically begin divorce proceedings.

This is exactly the situation that the government is addressing when it says that it intends to change the law. Paradoxically, the present state of legal affairs does not permit joint custody in the event that the father has been convicted of mistreating his wife or partner, but the loophole remains in the case of sole custody. What is of greater concern is that judges do not routinely intervene in cases where fathers have been convicted of mistreatment, removing them from the family home and denying them access to their children. Over the last five years, such positive action has been taken by judges in just 11,052 cases; a number that falls far short of reflecting the enormity of the problem.

The failure to act with greater determination against abusive fathers and partners is a reflection of the traditional permissiveness of Spanish society toward male aggression. With the new proposals, the government hopes to widen the scope of the law to protect higher numbers of women. Over the last five years, 145,000 men have been convicted of violence against women, including 328 who murdered their partners. According to official figures, some 800,000 children have been directly or indirectly subject to abuse.

Spain's judges have opposed the change to the law, saying that they fear men convicted of relatively minor offenses will be unfairly victimized. The judges add that they prefer to deal with custody in such situations on a case-by-case basis. This seems a sensible concern. That said, the new law needs to be applied across the board, if only to make judges aware of their responsibilities. As the PP has pointed out: "abusive fathers are not in any position to look after their children."

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