Italy Divorce Bill Draws Criticism From UN

In recent months, Italy’s divorce laws have come under increased scrutiny. The conservative senator Simone Pillon has proposed a change to the existing law that would make it more difficult for married couples to obtain a divorce. His proposed bill, however, has faced much criticism. Among its detractors are the United Nations, feminist groups and high-profile family lawyers.

Pillon’s proposed bill would make it compulsory for all couples seeking a divorce to go through a mediation process if they have children who are legally minors. This process would have to be funded by the couple privately and overseen by a professional mediator. A divorce would only be granted if a parenting plan which stipulates the child’s residence, schooling and holiday arrangements can be reached. The child must spend at least 12 days a month with each parent. Furthermore, fixed-amount monthly child support would be replaced with payments to be made as and when they are required in the child’s upbringing. These measures are all based on the principle that Pillon terms ‘perfect shared parenting.’

Simone Pillon is a controversial figure in Italian politics and this bill is representative of his hard-right reputation. His voting record includes long-term opposition to gay marriage, single-sex parents and abortion. Indeed, in an interview with Vanity Fair Italia, he shared that his proposed divorce reforms are designed to do ‘away with maintenance cheques, away with the ideological battle of women against men. We think only of the child.’ In the same interview, he also outlined a plan to crack down on ‘false accusations of domestic violence.’

The bill has been met with widespread opposition. Last week, thousands of women marched in 60 cities across Italy in protest; in Rome, women did so while dressed as handmaids from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. In October 2018, the United Nations’ special correspondents on violence and discrimination against women raised concerns with the Italian government that the proposed reforms represented ‘a serious retrogression,’ and ‘a backlash against the rights of women and attempts to reinstate a social order based on gender stereotypes and unequal power relations.’ Similarly, the prominent Italian family lawyer Marcelle Pirrone has spoken out on the bill as legislation that threatens to turn the clock back for 50 years on women, children and domestic abuse survivors.

The way in which the bill would affect victims of domestic abuse is a specific concern. Its association with the controversial ‘parental alienation syndrome’ has drawn much attention for this reason. This theory was developed by an American psychiatrist in the 1980s and suggests that one parent can manipulate a child to reject their other parent: Pillon’s bill has been designed to combat this. Marcelle Pironne argues, however, that the theory puts women and children at risk through allowing abusive fathers to manipulate custodial proceedings. Under the bill, a child who voices worry at seeing their abusive father, for example, would point towards a mother with ‘alienation syndrome’ trying to manipulate her child. Furthermore, Pironne has drawn attention to how the bill directly contradicts the Istanbul Convention against violence against women and domestic violence, which stipulates that mediation cannot be imposed on a domestic violence case.

The proposed changes to Italy’s divorce laws are part of the country’s broader attitudes to women. Gender roles are firmly rooted in a patriarchal framework and women’s claims of domestic violence are unlikely to be believed by authorities. Women are also killed in Italy more than in any other European country. Under the interior minister Matteo Salvini, Italy has been considered a country that is moving increasingly closer to a fascist regime. The recently proposed manipulation of divorce law seems only to confirm this suspicion for its women.