10th UCERF symposium on the 21st of April 2016

On the 21st of April the annual UCERF symposium on the current developments in family law was held for the tenth time. The second lustrum was celebrated with a day-long programme including a lunch at the Geertekerk in Utrecht. The symposium was opened by a word of welcome from Prof. dr. Wendy Schrama and a reflection on family and law by Prof. mr. Ton Hol, Head of the Law Department at the University of Utrecht.

The morning started with two keynote speakers. Mr. Sylvia Wortmann, member of the Council of State, spoke about the concepts of flexibility and certainty in family law and the existing tension between those concepts. She discussed the foundations of family law and the nature of relationships and then examined the development of flexibility and certainty in two areas: kinship and parental custody. Prof. dr. Masha Antokolskaia of the VU University Amsterdam then gave a very interesting and extensive presentation on ‘vechtschiedingen’ (a Dutch term used to refer to very nasty and messy divorces) and the question whether nowadays there is not actually more to fight about in the light of recent legislation and underlying ideologies. In her conclusion she offered several possible approaches to reduce ‘vechtscheidingen’.

After the lunch the first part of the afternoon was chaired by dr. Christina Jeppesen de Boer. Former advocate general at the Supreme Court, mr. Luc Strikwerda spoke about relationships of descent established abroad and how Dutch private international law deals with these relationships. The rules in Book 10 of the Dutch Civil Code, Art. 10:100 and Art. 10:101, and the cases in which the descent is not based on a court decision or deed were discussed at length. Then UCERF’s own dr. Merel Jonker gave a presentation on the WODC research on the current procedure of incoming international child abduction applications. After a brief explanation of the reasons for, the purpose of and the methodology used for the research, she discussed the findings and the merits and weaknesses of the current Dutch procedure. The presentation of Prof. Ido Weijers was about a completely different topic; the judicial creativity in interpreting the youth protection law. The addition of the concept ‘acceptable period of time’ in both Art. 1:255a para. 1 sub b and Art. 1:266 para. 1 sub a Dutch Civil Code since the enactment of the new Dutch child protection law creates an open standard, Weijers spoke about how the court should or can exercise its discretion to give substance to this standard.

The second part of the afternoon started after a short coffee break under the chairmanship of dr. Marjolein van den Brink. Prof. Katharina Boele-Woelki, founder of UCERF, President of Bucerius Law School in Hamburg and Chair of the Commission on European Family Law (CEFL), spoke about the current European research of the CEFL into informal relationships. She gave a look behind the scenes of CEFL’s work; how a choice has to be made with regards to terminology and a definition and also how the Preamble has been tentatively formulated. Lawyer mr. Katrien van Stratum of Delissen Martens then spoke about cassation in family law cases with relevant practical advice as to how lawyers can keep the door open to the Supreme Court. Good knowledge of procedural law appears to be essential. Finally, there was an unexpected speaker (Prof. Marian Verkerk unfortunately could not be present), mr. Lotte Castelijns from Tanger Advocaten, with a very energetic and stimulating presentation on suspicions of sexual abuse in family law cases. With the question whether the right of access between a child and parent should be suspended upon suspicion of sexual abuse during the investigation, she got the audience to think while she discussed the effect of reporting sexual abuse and the impact thereof on the procedure. After a very eventful day with many expert speakers the symposium was concluded with drinks.

The book with the contributions of the speakers can be ordered here (in Dutch).