Mother loses custody of child for living in ’empty Spain’

Pesqueiras village in Lugo Galicia Spain
Although the Galician village where the child's mother lives has not been named, it's in the province of A Coruña and was described by the judge as "far from everything". Photo: nuberu_na/Pixabay
A Galician mother has lost custody of her one-year-old son after a judge in Marbella ruled that “rural Galicia” was not a suitable environment for a child to grow up in. 

Is rural Spain not a suitable environment to rear a child?

This is the question being asked by many in Spain following a custody battle between a mother who lives in a rural setting in the northwestern region of Galicia and a father who is based in the glitzy city of Marbella on Spain’s southern coast. 

Court proceedings took place in the Costa del Sol city, with the judge ruling in favour of custody for the father as “Galicia profunda” (‘deep’ Galicia, as in rural and secluded) was not as suitable a place for a child to grow up in, favouring “cosmopolitan” Marbella. 

According to the magistrate, the mother’s home, in a village in A Coruña province between the Muros and Noia estuaries, doesn’t offer “many possibilities for the adequate development of a child’s personality and for him to grow up in a happy environment”.

The judge stressed that “a very small village”, “far from everything” and with “no job options” couldn’t compare to “all the infrastructure”, “good hospitals” and “all kinds of schools to choose from, public and private” in Marbella, adding that she would only get joint custody if she moved to the upmarket southern city.  

The one year old’s mother left her region for work reasons four years ago, met the man who would become the father of her son and together they moved to Marbella where the child was born in 2020.

After the couple ended their relationship last summer, the mother returned to her native Galicia with her baby. Both parents requested joint custody and a judicial proceeding which has now been covered by Spain’s leading newspapers, El País and ABC among them, ensued. 

The mother’s lawyer has filed a complaint with the disciplinary commission of Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary, arguing that the judge was “partial” and acted with “absolute contempt”, calling the decision “discriminatory against Galicia and its rural areas”

It’s an opinion shared by Galician politicians such as Ana Pontón, head of the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) , who argued on Twitter that “it cannot be that in 2021, ‘deep Galicia’ be used as an argument to deprive a mother of her child”.

The judge’s decision has also been condemned across Spain, although some legal sources have since pointed out that the fact that the mother took the child back to her village without the father agreeing to it worked against her, as did the derogatory language and threats she used towards her ex-partner in WhatsApp messages read out in court. 

If a couple in Spain cannot agree on how they will split time with their child/children after a breakup, it’s up to a judge to decide what the custody arrangement will be.

The divisive court case comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic and the advent of remote working in Spain have seen many city workers move to rural areas in search of better quality of life, from cheaper costs to bigger spaces and more nature, as well as a healthy environment for their children to grow up in. 

This repopulation of so-called ‘Empty Spain’ (La España Vacidada) has been encouraged by a new visa for digital nomads, improving internet connections and offers of free accommodation or financial incentives, but a lot still remains to be done to close the gap between Spain’s densely packed cities and its ageing and struggling pueblos (villages). 

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