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‘Biased’ Conduct and ‘Soviet’ Mentality: Armenian Lawyers Speak out Against District Custody Boards

The Heads of Yerevan's district commissions of trusteeship and custodianship have recently begun to create problems for the country's lawyers hindering their participation in the commissions' sittings which impelled the lawyers to initiate discussions and propose revision of the nature of this institution and even consider its abolition. The first discussion, held on November 4 at the Chamber of Advocates in Yerevan, was also attended by an Epress.am correspondent. 

official functions of the commissions

The commissions of trusteeship and custodianship are formed by the heads of communities and administrative districts and work under their supervision. They are mandated to give opinions and conclusions in civil disputes over child custody, namely, which parent should assume custody, how frequently and for how long the other parent should visit the child. The commissions' conclusions are presented as evidence in court and have only a consultative role; however, as stated by attorneys, in more than 70% of cases, judges render a verdict based on these opinions.

commissions as a soviet legacy

These commissions, which have a great influence on and often determine the child's and the parents' fate, are not always comprised of pedagogues or psychologists. As stated by the lawyers during yesterday's discussion, in addition to being incompetent, many of the commission members are not interested in solving the families' problems consistently since they do not get paid for it. On another issue, the commissions' conclusions are not subject to appeal. Some of the meeting participants also pointed out that the decisions are often biased in favor of parties who are “acquainted with” the district head. These commissions, as noted by lawyer Liana Balyan, are a “Soviet legacy,” and their conduct has remained almost unchanged compared to Soviet times. 

specialized structures instead of commissions

Speaking about possible solutions, some of the speakers proposed to create additional vacancies in the communities for specialists who would deal only with issues of custodianship. Lawyer Balyan, however, said the Armenian Ministry of Justice has already dismissed this idea due to “lack of funds.” The lawyers, in turn, suggest to solve the financial issue by including the to-be-allocated money in court costs, as in the case of forensic examinations.

Lawyer Nvard Piliposyan said international experience should also be taken into account: in a number of countries consultation on child custody is provided by social workers, and they do it not after taking part in a few meetings, but rather as a result of periodic communication and visits with the child and the parents. Some of the attorneys, on the other hand, are convinced the issue would be resolved with the abolition of commissions and creation of specialized structures. 

The lawyers also discussed the recent prohibitions on participation in commission meetings. It was noted that by hindering their involvement in the cases, district heads “insult the professional dignity” of lawyers. In several instances, as stated by participants, district heads even claimed that “lawyers destroy families” and “create tension between parties.”

It was decided at the conclusion of the meeting that the Chamber of Advocates would issue an official statement to condemn the commissions' misconduct and prevent a future abuse of power by their heads.

Pictured – a sitting of Yerevan's Arabkir Administrative District Commission of Trusteeship and Custodianship