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Post-soviet Legal Codes Affecting The Family

Soviet family law was thus contrary to democratic views that a partnership should exist between individuals and the state and that family privacy should be respected. After the collapse of Soviet rule, authoritarian laws pertaining to the family were therefore scrapped. The Family Code of 1995, which was partially modeled after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, outlawed "arbitrary intervention" by outsiders in family matters. Parents have clear obligations to care for their children, but only in the case of child maltreatment do others have the right to intervene. Even then, every effort must be made to preserve the family unit. Removing the child is to be a last resort. Moreover, children now have the right to voice their opinions. Their preferences are to be taken seriously during custody hearings and other disputes.

The new code also supports self-determination in marriage. Engaged couples may write their own marriage contracts specifying the percentage of income and property to be shared. (Soviet family law did not deal with property rights because, according to socialist ideology, citizens were not supposed to concern themselves with material possessions.) Another innovation in the 1995 Family Code was the explicit recognition of fathers' rights to participate in parental decision-making, to take parental leaves, and to win custody after divorce (Butler and Kuraeva 2001).

The 1995 code also abandons the Soviet view that, when children are involved, judges decide if a marriage may be dissolved. Now, when desire for divorce is mutual, judges must grant the request regardless of spouses' motives; the court's role is limited to decisions regarding custody and protection of children's property interests. When only one spouse desires divorce, the couple may opt for a court hearing. However, if either spouse refuses to air private difficulties in court, the judge's only option is to give the couple three months to reconcile. After three months, the divorce is granted even if only one spouse wants it. Lawmakers reasoned that children's interests are A Russian family toasts a member of the family who, having emigrated to the United States, has returned for a visit. DAVID H. WELLS/CORBIS not served by the maintenance of unhappy marriages. The only exceptions involve cases in which the husband wants a divorce but the wife is pregnant or they have child who is less than a year old (Antokolskaya 1996; Dyuzheva 1995).

The 1995 Family Code is also notable for its stance regarding individuals' responsibility for the well-being of extended family members. It continues Soviet tradition in requiring financial support not only of one's own children, but also of needy parents, siblings, grandchildren, and grandparents. This includes the legal right of relatives to live in the family home no matter what their age or marital status and no matter what the size of the dwelling. Post-Soviet price inflation coupled with stagnant pensions has seriously affected the quality of life of the aged; many couples must help elderly relatives with financial support, if not with daily care.

Even before the 1995 Family Code, the 1992 Education Law had sought to democratize relationships between parents, teachers, the community, and students. Whereas during Soviet times, schools were expected to guide and, where necessary, instruct, parents on vospitanie (moral upbringing) (Grigorenko 2000), the 1992 law gave parents the right to use their discretion in accepting or rejecting teachers' and health care workers' instructions. Moreover, parents have the right to be informed about school educational philosophies and strategies and may choose preferred types of schooling (public, private, religious, or at home) for their children.

Accordingly, the Parents' Committee, which had operated since Soviet times, appears to have changed in nature from being a vehicle for teachers to enlist parental support with vospitanie, to one that assists in the daily life of school, helps with children's education, and serves a platform for the voicing of complaints. In addition, a new School Council composed of parents, teachers, students, and community representatives has been introduced. However, the relationship of this body to other decision-making bodies has not been clearly spelled out and it seems that, in many cases, its function has been limited.

It must be said that, realistically speaking, it will be years before most Russian families feel these legal changes in practice. Many parents, teachers, and health care workers are unaware of parents' new rights. Second, for most families, especially for those living outside of the major large cities, choices of educational institutions are limited. Third, though some educators are indeed engaging in a more collaborative effort with parents than ever existed during Soviet times, creating new types of relationships is often difficult for parents and professionals socialized in different times according to different standards. Fourth, the age-old priority of the mother-child over the father-child relationship will be difficult to rebalance, as evidenced by the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, mothers are still awarded custody after divorce (Butler and Kuraeva 2001).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsRussia - The Demographic Crisis, The Family In Soviet Times, Post-soviet Legal Codes Affecting The Family