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Support person helps the voice of the child to be heard in Montenegro’s court proceedings

PODGORICA, 10 July 2018 - Dijana Popovic Gavranovic, a social worker and family therapist, has become one of the 17 licensed support persons in Montenegro, whose job is to help children going through the traumatic experience of parental divorce.

Dijana Popovic-Gavranovic, in Podgorica, in July 2018, explaining how the "support person" helps the voice of the child to be heard in Montenegro’s court proceedings – UNICEF Montenegro / Dusko Miljanic / 2018

“If your parents are getting divorced and there are court proceedings; if you cannot agree with your parents about what matters to you; if your parents do not hear or disregard what you are saying; then you can request assistance by means of a support person and the judge will appoint someone who will assist you”, Dijana explains.

She has already been engaged as a support person in several cases. She explains that the first step is getting acquainted with the judge and the case; the second step is meeting the parents and gaining their trust; and the third step is establishing a relationship with the child.

“We adapt to the child depending on his or her age – sometimes we just play until we establish contact. The younger the child is, the more time is needed for the child to adapt to the situation, meet new people, understand what the court is, what divorce is, what is expected from him or her, and to start talking about what the child wants to say about himself or herself and his or her family”, Dijana points out.

Although it is easier to establish cooperation with older children, Diana emphasizes that the work with children is most affected by the intensity and duration of the proceedings and the parents’ conflict, which is often very intense and lasts for years.

“When the conflict and hostility between parents are quite pronounced, regardless of the child’s age, it is very difficult to gain his or her trust. So, in such situations, it takes a lot more time and effort to ascertain the genuine view of the child”, Dijana says.

She also points out that children need to know that the support individuals “do not decide for them”.

“I have my opinion, you have your opinion, mum and dad have their own opinions, and the judge has his or her opinion. If you wish, you can tell me your opinion and I shall help you do that. If you do not want to express your opinion, I shall help you do that as well. If you express your opinion, you can come to a solution that is good for you and your family.”

Ibrahim Smailovic, the Assistant to the Minister of Justice, in Podgorica, in July 2018, pointing out that Montenegro is the first country in the region to introduce the "support person" into its justice system in order to help it achieve justice for evey child – UNICEF Montenegro / Dusko Miljanic / 2018

Ascertaining the genuine view of the child is the main task of the support person, an institution that is a key novelty in the Family Law, whose amendments were initiated and implemented by the Ministry of Justice with UNICEF’s support in 2017.

Ibrahim Smailovic, the Assistant to the Minister of Justice, says that the Ministry is very proud of this institution and that it was Montenegro that first recognized the need for it in the region and introduced it into its legislation.

“A support person is appointed by the court when it is assessed that the intensity of the conflict between the parents is too strong to allow the child to present his or her view in the proceedings without damaging his or her psychological and physical development”, Smajlovic says.

The introduction of the support person into Montenegro’s justice system has made it more capable of providing justice to every child.



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