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For over ten years already citizens of Estonia have been having a possibility of exercising the right of free movement in Europe and choose the most suitable place to live and work. This has certainly brought along positive effects, however there are problems as well. When moving from one country to another without taking into consideration the child protection aspects in the country of new residence, a family can have a different interpretation of matters of welfare of their children. At the same time children have the right to be protected against any abuse, abuse and neglect. Furthermore, the children have the right to be protected against separation from their families, unless it competent authorities decide that such separation is unavoidable and is in the best interests of the child. Every child has the right to safety and care. In complex situations children need unconditional protection and their families and persons close to them need appropriate counselling. Cross-border child protection work involves cases where a child in need or one of the parents comes from, has resided or is still residing in another country.

A cross-border child protection case (hereinafter Case) is managed by the child protection worker of the child’s habitual residence. The child’s habitual residence and the registered place of residence of the family do not necessarily coincide, and therefore information about a cross-border case is also needed by the local municipality (including in another country) of the registered place of residence of the child or the child’s parent(s). The country that requests information about the child or the family generally arranges translation.

What information may I ask from and must provide to a child protection worker of another country?

  • the name and date of birth of the child
  • the names and dates of birth of the parents
  • contact information of the parents and persons concerned
  • population register data (right of custody and place of residence according to the population register)
  •  brief summary of the situation
  • what information do I need
  • contact information of the applicant and/or respondent (incl. the name of the authority, postal address, e-mail address, telephone and fax number)

NB! Estonian personal ID codes and digital signatures are not effective outside Estonia!

Custody matters in case of divorced parents

Parents who have decided to part ways often have many disagreements, but these disagreements must not prevent children from having a relationship with both parents. According to § 143 (1) of the Family Law Act a child has the right to maintain personal contact with both parents. Both parents have the obligation and right to maintain personal contact with their child. Subsection (2) of the same section stipulates that a parent shall refrain from any action which is harmful to the relationship between the child and the other parent or which hinders raising of the child. The same provision applies if a child is cared for and raised by another person.

Parents have four options in terms of the procedure of access to the child on which they can agree

  1. The most child-friendly and the best option for the family is such where the parents agree the procedure of access to the child among themselves with the help of a family therapist, if necessary.
  2. If the parents cannot reach a mutual agreement, they need to turn to the child protection worker of the local municipality, who will advise the family and help them to arrange the procedure of access.
  3. If parents wish to have a legally valid agreement, they can turn to a notary public, who shall work with the parents to formulate an official procedure of access. However, if the mutual relationship between the parents is sour and the disagreements are considerable, it could be impossible to agree on a notarised procedure of access.
  4. The worst option for the child for establishing the procedure of access is to have recourse to a court of law. The court has to involve the child protection worker of the local municipality for passing the ruling. In some cases court ruling can take several years to be passed. § 563 of the Code of Civil Court Procedure stipulates that if a parent informs the court that the other parent violates a court ruling regulating access to the child or an agreement entered into in a notarially authenticated format or hinders compliance therewith, the court summons, based on a petition by the parent, the parents to appear before the court in order to settle the conflict pertaining to the child by way of agreement. The court need not summon the parents to appear before the court if application of a conciliation procedure or subsequent extra-judicial counselling has already failed. Parents can find more detailed information about the conciliation procedure in the Conciliation Act.

Free legal assistance

It is also possible to consult an attorney to find out legal aspects of the matter: what rights does each of the parties have www.juristideliit.ee. If there is evidence that the other parent wishes to abduct and take the child to another country, the parent can file an application to a court of law seeking provisional legal protection and free legal aid at www.kohus.ee. If the parents share the right of custody, then a written consent formulated as an application would be sufficient for the child to leave the country.

In Estonia cross-border cases are handled by a child protection worker who is working in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Social Insurance Board and the consul of the state where the child is staying.

Cross-border cases with children, in which Estonia could be involved, include

  • minor-related cases in foreign countries
  • travelling abroad with children
  • children travelling abroad without the consent of the parent(s)
  • removing of a child from an Estonian parent

a) by social workers of another country

b) by the other parent

  • matters concerning jurisdiction of cross-border claims vis-à-vis right of custody (including guardianship)
  • recognition of a custody judgment rendered in a foreign country;
  • notification of guardianship authorities of another country about a family/ child needing attention;
  • application for the recovery of a child unlawfully taken or held abroad (international child abduction);
  • ensuring cross-border right of access;
  • collection of child support if a parent is a resident in another country (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2014).

Matters of international child abduction fall under the purview of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sighed on 25.10.1980 in The Hague (i.e. the Child Abduction Convention). Estonia acceded to the convention on 01.07.2001.  The key objectives of the Convention is to put the interest of children first in child custody matters, protecting children at the international level against hazardous impacts caused by them being taken and held unlawfully, as well as creating harmonised rules to ensure their immediate return to the country of their habitual residence and securing rights of visitation of children.  Other significant legislation includes the Brussels II bis Regulation (2201/2003) and the 1996 Hague Convention, which both contain provisions governing placement and measures for the protection of children, as well as cooperation between authorities.