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    This article examines the hearing of children in Belgian and Dutch courts in return proceedings following an international child abduction. The analysis is based on the experience, insights and needs of both children who have experienced an abduction by one of their parents, and family judges. In this sensitive and often highly conflicted family context, hearing children in court is not self-evident. Challenges of both a judicial-institutional and communicative-relational nature can hinder the effective implementation of children’s right to be heard. This contribution seeks to answer the question of how to better support judges and children in addressing these challenges, with the aim of enabling children to fully and effectively participate in return procedures. Building on the interviews with children and judges, supplemented with findings from Belgian and Dutch case law and international literature, three key recommendations are formulated: 1) explore and evaluate opportunities for judges and children to experience support during the return procedure, for example via the figure of the guardian ad litem; 2) invest in training and opportunities for specialisation of judges with a view to strengthen their expertise in taking the best interests of the child into account; and 3) systematically pay attention to feedback to the children involved on how the final decision about their return is made – and this before, during and after the procedure.
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    Dit artikel bestudeert het horen van kinderen in Belgische en Nederlandse rechtbanken in terugkeerprocedures volgend op een internationale kinderontvoering. De analyse vertrekt vanuit de beleving, ervaring, inzichten, noden en behoeften van zowel kinderen als van bevoegde familierechters. In deze gevoelige en vaak uiterst conflictueuze gezinscontext is het horen van kinderen door de rechter geen evidentie. Uitdagingen van zowel juridisch-institutionele als communicatieve-relationele aard kunnen een effectieve implementatie van het recht van kinderen om gehoord te worden in de weg staan. Dit artikel zoekt een antwoord op de vraag hoe rechters en kinderen beter kunnen worden ondersteund om deze uitdagingen aan te pakken, met als doel dat kinderen volwaardig kunnen participeren in de terugkeerprocedure. Voortbouwend op de interviews met kinderen en rechters, aangevuld met bevindingen uit Belgische en Nederlandse rechtspraak en internationale literatuur, worden drie sleutelaanbevelingen geformuleerd: 1) voorzie mogelijkheden voor rechters en kinderen om spanningsvelden weg te werken tijdens de terugkeerprocedure, bijvoorbeeld via de ondersteunende figuur van de bijzonder curator; 2) investeer in opleiding en groeiende specialisatiemogelijkheden bij rechters en 3) heb aandacht voor feedback en terugkoppeling naar de betrokken kinderen over hoe de eindbeslissing over hun terugkeer tot stand komt, en dit zowel voor, tijdens als na de procedure.


Sara Lembrechts LLM
Sara Lembrechts is researcher at University of Antwerp (Law and Development Research Group) and policy advisor at Children’s Rights Knowledge Centre (KeKi).

Marieke Putters LLM
Marieke Putters is researcher at the International Child Abduction Center (Centrum IKO).

Kim Van Hoorde
Kim Van Hoorde is Project & Prevention Manager at Child Focus.

dr. Thalia Kruger
Thalia Kruger, PhD, is Associate Professor at the University of Antwerp (Personal Rights and Property Rights Research Group) and Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town.

dr. Koen Ponnet
Koen Ponnet, PhD, is Professor at Imec-Mict-Ghent University (Faculty of Social Sciences).

dr. Wouter Vandenhole
Wouter Vandenhole, PhD, is Professor at the University of Antwerp (Law and Development Research Group).

    This article discusses the possibility spouses have under the Rome III Regulation (EC Regulation 1259/2010) to choose the law applicable to their divorce. It discusses the limits and exceptions of this freedom to choose.


Dr. Thalia Kruger
Thalia Kruger is professor at the law faculty of the University of Antwerp, where she teaches and researches private international law, international civil procedure and international family law. She is also Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town.
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