Polish marriage law in the context of social changes and evolution of law in Europe

date: 26 May 2021

location: Webinar (Faculty of Educational Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University)

presenters: Dr. hab. Prof. INP PAN Marek Andrzejewski

moderators: -

themes: Polish marriage law in the context of social changes and evolution of law in Europe

The webinar was an event organised as part of the Central European Professors’ Network, with the main aim of promoting the project. The event took place on 26 May 2021 at the Faculty of Educational Studies of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

The event was attended by the staff members and the students of the Faculty of Educational Studies. The lecture was tailored in such a way as to render legal issues understandable to the audience who was not composed of lawyers. Since participants of the webinar deal with family issues in a pedagogical context, this is why legal considerations were presented in a broader cultural context so as to reveal their social background. The aim was to make the issues raised in the webinar more accessible.

About thirty people attended the event. The lecture was followed by the Q&A session, during which participants asked detailed questions concerning divorce judgement, parental responsibility and the links between family law and a canon law.

In the beginning Professor Marek Andrzejewski introduced the idea of the project of Central European Professors’ Network in which researchers from Central Europe are looking for what is common in countries located in that part of Europe. He emphasized the very idea that triggered launching this network, which is a cultural specificity of Central Europe (which differs from Western and Eastern Europe). He added that this specificity should be highlighted and revealed so as to protect the identity of the region as well as the identity of particular countries and nations. This does not imply ignoring the obvious differences between the countries.

He then pointed out the Ferenc Mádl Institute of Comparative Law in Budapest as the Institution that coordinates the project and at the specificity of what is described as Comparative law.

During the webinar, social changes taking place in Europe which affect the understanding of marriage were presented. These changes influence the social rank of marriage, its importance for particular people as well as the ways of entering into marriage and the ways of terminating it. These unfavorable changes are triggered by a whole spectrum of universal phenomena such as consumerism, contemporary currents of thought such as neo-Marxism, gender, secularization, a change of family roles resulting from the process of women empowerment and emancipation, immigration, and many others. These phenomena bring about different transformations, among them an increasing number of divorces, or weakened family ties and their side-effects such as neglect of maintenance obligations or domestic violence. In general, a tendency to downplay marriage has been observed: both as regards entering into it as well as terminating it.

It is easy to prove that the status of marriage is obscured by new legislations that seem to imply that marriage is a way of life everybody is entitled to, irrespective of sex, mental condition or disability, or, at some cultures, also of age.

The main focus in the lecture was placed on two issues connected with entering into marriage: first, the regulation of marriages and civil partnerships of same sex couples , and second, marriage of people with serious intellectual deficiency.

In Poland, in accordance with the standards of human rights protection (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948) marriage is seen as a union between a man and a woman (Art. 18 of the Constitution of Polish Republic; Art. 1 of the Family Guardianship Code). Unlike in many countries of Central Europe, no legislation on civil partnership was accepted, though there is no constitutional obstacle.

Marriage cannot be entered into by persons of the same sex or by people affected by serious mental diseases or disabilities (Art. 12 FGC). In 2016 The Constitutional Tribunal of the Polish Republic ruled that this law is not a sign of discrimination against these people. Rather, the issue of a potential threat to the stability of the marriage was raised as well as a difficulty to meet marital and parental responsibility by the persons with disabilities. Poland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2006, yet it appealed Art. 23 of this Convention, which talks about full rights of people with disabilities to enter into marriage and start a family.

Professor Andrzejewski later said that significant changes in marriage law, though raising many doubts, can be observed not only in the way people enter it but also how they terminate it.

An erosion of the permanence of marriage was one of the consequences of introduction of the idea of a divorce at the request of the spouses (as it was done earlier in the case of civil partnerships), which eliminates the need to present any grounds for the cancellation of marriage or to go through some legal procedures. This procedure has already been introduced in most European countries. Because it has been so simplified, in some countries a divorce case takes place not in a court but in a notary or lower-level administrative office.

Supporters of the liberal divorce laws point out that marriage dissolution should remind its contraction, which means that it should be a result of concerted will of both parties. This seemingly attractive argument has however one major weakness: the parties that are getting a divorce are in the state of disagreement; they are quarrelling and either spouse can utter some statements that will lead to divorce but we never know if the statements express their free will or whether they are a result of a blackmail (economic or psychic pressure). The statements are formulated during a serious mental crisis, during a breakdown, which may severely impair the thinking process, including due care over children.

Changes introduced to provisions regulating the way people enter into marriage or dissolve it in fact illustrate the process of deinstitutionalization of marriage, well known to and widely described by sociologists studying contemporary western societies. This trend is also observed in Poland, though it is not as strong as in the Scandinavian or western European countries.

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