New family code stirs controversy in Bulgaria

It is interesting to see how former Soviet states deal with the institution of the family as they adopt western-style democracy and turn towards Europe. Bulgaria, a predominantly Orthodox Balkan country of about 7.6 million people, entered the European Union last year and is currently overhauling its Family Code. Apart from worthwhile reforms to adoption procedures, the legislation is controversial because of its liberalising provisions for marriage. It would recognise cohabitation as the equivalent of marriage and enable fast-track divorces by regulating pre-nuptial agreements which would spell out which spouse would have to pay family support in the event of divorce and well as who will get custody of the children and possession of the family home.

Adoption amendments allow children to be offered for adoption if parents have behaved as absentees, leaving their children in state institutions for six months continuously. Adoption by foreigners will be allowed only if there are no suitable candidates within Bulgaria. A national register of adopters and an integrated information system on children subject to full adoption are to be introduced.

A provision that may have negative potential (how would birth control groups use it?) gives children the right of an opinion on all matters concerning them, including adoptions, and parents would have to take these opinions into account, according to the child’s age, maturity and interests.

Predictably, the gay lobby is calling for family rights for homosexual couples living together. At the same time, centre and right-wing parties and groups are warning, variously, that recognition of de facto relationships would undermine marriage, increase divorce, expose more children to family breakdown, and open the way for gay marriage and legalised polygamy and incest. One critic also points out that the new code would do nothing to address the country’s severe demographic crisis. Bulgaria’s population has been declining since the early 1990s and the birth rate is currently only 1.4 children per woman. ~ The Sofia Echo, Sep 27



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