The European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction was created in 1987 on the initiative of Lord Plumb, in order to help children from bi-national marriages/relationships victims of parental child abduction.
The role of the Mediator is to help find mutually acceptable solutions in the child's best interest when, following the separation of spouses/partners of different nationalities or who live in different countries, a child is taken away from one of the parents. Mairead McGuinness was appointed EP Mediator for cases of international child abductions on 2014, following Roberta Angelilli (2009-2014), Evelyne Gebhardt (2004-2009), Mary Banotti (1995-2004) and Marie-Claude Vayssade (1987-1994).
Over the years the Mediator's Office has played an important role in coordinating and investigating such matters and has put forward solutions in specific cases. Recently, the possibility of using family mediation in cases of international child abduction was raised in the conclusions of the Stockholm European Council (2009) and in the Commission's Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme (2010).
The European Parliament plays an active role in this field, not only in its legislative capacity but also by offering the public the benefits of the experience gained by the Mediator's Office, acting at all times in the best and exclusive interests of the child.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that aims to determinate the positive management of conflicts. Its goal is to induce the parties to find a solution mutually acceptable and satisfactory through the assistance of one third: the mediator.
For the cases of international child abduction, scope of the mediation is achieving a negotiated agreement in the exclusive interest of the minor. The main responsibility of the European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction is to assist the parents in finding the best solution for the well-being of their child.
In order to save children and parents the emotional and psychological strain arising from legal proceedings, the EP Mediator provides information and advises on the alternative way to settle the dispute, namely mediation.
The parents who wish to undertake a mediation procedure are convened to the European Parliament or the place of residence of the minor (depending from the circumstances of the case) to discuss their dispute openly outside of the rigid legal process; the procedure offers authoritative and valid support in seeking to make such discussion possible and beneficial.
On receiving an application from a member of the public, the first thing that the Mediator's Office does is to assess that application:
a/ if there are no legal grounds precluding mediation (e.g. such as the commission of a criminal offence), a mediation procedure is formally opened and the parties are asked to sign a statement agreeing to mediation;
b/ a dialogue is opened between the parties which takes the form of conference call sessions and the exchange of correspondence by mail and e mail, the aim of which is to establish the fundamental issues to be addressed in the negotiations;
c/ once the key points of an agreement have been established by mutual consent, a draft text is drawn up which is then discussed with a view to reaching agreement on a final text during the mediation sessions;
d/ mediation takes place on the European Parliament's premises, in the presence of the parties (sometimes via video/telephone conferencing), of the staff of the Mediator's Office and, where applicable, of the parties' legal representatives;
e/ in the case of video/telephone conferencing, the parties negotiate from an 'institution' such as an embassy, consulate or EU delegation office;
f/ once the mediation agreement has been finalised, it is signed by the parties and the Mediator and acquires official status.
The mediation agreement is a private contract between the parties.
That contract derives its legal validity from the fact that the parties have reached mutual agreement on the issues discussed during the mediation process.
When helping the parties to reach their agreement, the European Parliament Mediator ensures it will be legally watertight by checking that everything agreed is lawful and fair.
At the behest of the parties, the final mediation agreement may be submitted for the approval of the competent courts in the countries of origin and/or residence of the parties and, where applicable, be used as the basis for a mutually agreed separation or divorce.
This mediation service is provided free of charge. The European Parliament provide the parties with the legal assistance they need to conclude a properly structured and lawful agreement, underwritten by the Mediator's Office.
An agreement reached by the parties during a mediation procedure can avoid unnecessary relocation of the child, allows the parents actively and purposefully to address all issues affecting the family and is speedier and less costly than court proceedings. Once understood, accepted and signed by the parties, the agreement can be brought before the courts, which can formalise its terms in a court order that will be recognised and enforceable in other countries.
Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: The rights of the child
1. Children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being. They may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity.
2. In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child's best interests must be a primary consideration.
3. Every child shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis a personal relationship and direct contact with both his or her parents, unless that is contrary to his or her interests.