After the lock down – a view from Switzerland with Gabriela van Huisseling (English version)
As Stephanie said in her recent anglo/french blog post we are often consulted in family law cases that have a cross jurisdictional element. Having spent some time in Northern Germany growing up and studying law at the Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg during my ERASMUS year, and Catriona having studied German at the University of Vienna, we were interested to find out how our German speaking friends were handling their family law cases during lockdown. How are matters progressing now that the lockdown restrictions are thawing, and how might that affect any advice we give our clients with links to Switzerland.
We spoke to Gabriela van Huisseling, a founding member and partner of AH4 AG Family Law Experts in Zurich. We asked her a few questions about her views on life after lockdown, and this is what she had to say:
- How has contact for children with parents living in separate homes been affected?
After the initial uncertainty as to whether contact was possible, or permissible, the Conference for Child and Adult Protection (KOKES) https://www.kokes.ch/application/files/6615/8591/7658/KOKES_Corona_und_Besuchsrecht.pdf issued guidelines in April 2020 which stated that contact should still take place. KOKES position was grounded by the principle that appropriate contact between children and their parents is paramount. As an exception, the guidelines stated that alternative contact options (Skype etc) should be arranged where there was a foreign connection and it was not possible for parties to cross the border in order to facilitate contact.
- Have the courts still been taking on cases, and if so, what measures were put in place to facilitate court business during lockdown?
Yes, even though it was very limited in the initial phases, the judicial process continued despite lockdown. From March to the end of May 2020, no hearings were held. Since then, they have resumed. In accordance with the federalist structure of the Swiss judicial system, all courts have taken individual protective measures. Plexiglass partitions were installed in most courtrooms. The possibility of video conference was also handled differently between courts. Most judges struggled with it and reference was made to inadequate data protection.
I understand that a commission from the Zurich High Court and the Zurich’s Lawyers Association are currently working on a standardised video conference method that will also apply to future court hearings.
- Has there been any effect on the property position in Switzerland, has buying and selling, or indeed lending been affected by lockdown measures?
From my perspective, this was not negatively influenced, at least not in the greater Zurich area.
- Were there any pending family law related reforms in Switzerland that have been delayed by the lockdown measures?
Due to the temporary postponement of parliamentary meetings, the parliamentary vote on marriage for everyone, i.e. for same sex couples, was postponed by a few months. However, since lockdown restrictions have eased the parliamentary vote has taken place.
On Thursday 09 June, Switzerland’s lower house of parliament approved draft legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry. They voted in favour of Ehefüralle (marriage for everyone) by 132 votes to 52, with 13 abstentions. Despite opposition from conservatives, legislators also voted to let lesbian couples use sperm donations to conceive children. The legislation has now moved to the upper house for a final vote.
- What, in your view, are any positives arising from the lockdown measures in relation to Swiss family law?
We hope that, in the future, where there are court hearings involving parties who live abroad that we will have the option to conduct the hearing by video conference. Previously, due to the obligations for parties to appear in person, any parties living abroad were required to travel to Switzerland even for brief hearings.
Many families report that lockdown has brought them closer together and that it created a pleasant deceleration of everyday life. This deceleration allowed them to gain something very positive from lockdown. As a result, fathers were increasingly involved in everyday family life. In this respect, it is to be hoped that a move towards more family models being based on partnership will have a positive effect on Family Law.
Also, in June 2020, it was reported that the pregnancy rate had increased by 30% compared to June 2019. Yet another positive effect of lockdown…