Family Policies: Latvia (2015)

Introduction 
Almost two decades after Latvia regained political independence, demographic policies, including family policy, developed in a passive manner. Some administrations declared their intention to implement demographic recovery programmes or elaborate pronatalist policy measures. Step-by-step, family policy issues have gained notable importance in recent years.

A purposeful and meaningful development to family policy was initiated by Ministry of Children and Family Affairs (2002 – 2009). As a result of severe budget cuts at the beginning of economic recession in 2009, this ministry was among those to be closed. The functions of the ministry were divided among several other ministries: The children and family policy area was transferred under the responsibility of the Ministry of Welfare. This ministry is still responsible for family policy in Latvia.

At present Latvia has one of the most rapidly growing economies among the European Union countries (Ministry of Economics of the Republic of Latvia 2013: 16) and the situation today is quite different from that of five years ago, when Latvia experienced a severe economic crisis, which in turn seriously affected the wellbeing of the majority of Latvian families. 

Family policy guidelines in Latvia have been strongly aimed at strengthening the traditional family as a concept (the main emphasis is on promoting traditionally married couples with children as the best of family type for rearing children), thereby increasing the marriage rate and decreasing indices of divorce. A policy was also set for 2011-2017 with the goal of increasing fertility as well as improving support for families.

The state’s expenditure on family support (especially by combining different forms of support) likely has a positive influence on the indices of fertility. In 2013, public financing for family policies in Latvia was 2 % of GDP, and this increased to 2.25-2.5 % of GDP by 2014-2015.

Most of the expenditure for children and family support in Latvia consists of cash benefits and only partly of services and tax breaks for families. Apparently Latvia seeks to achieve the average OECD and EU level in the areas of the proportion of subsidised services and social expenditures for families and children. By comparison, EU expenditures for social security for children and families in 2000 consisted of 2.1 % of GDP, in 2008, 2.1 % of GDP, and in 2010, on average 2.3 % of GDP (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia 2013: 70).

Comparing data on the total fertility rate and public spending on families (in %) from the OECD (Sobotka, p. 10), the results confirmed that those European countries with lower spending for childcare services (below 1 % of their GDP) have lower total fertility rates, and vice-versa – countries with higher spending for childcare services (at or above 1 percent of their GDP) have demonstrated higher fertility rates. This clearly indicates the close correlation between fertility and the socio-economic situation, and especially whether public expenditures for families and the predictability of support measures for families exist.

Family forms: Marriage, Divorce & Cohabitation
Although some political documents identified a multiplicity of family forms, The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia1 defines marriage as the only officially recognised and protected family form in Latvia. Marriage is also highlighted as the advisable family form in other family policy documents. This approach is based on traditional values rather than on the reality of human practices or sociological research with clear methodological principles. At the same time, one of the policy documents states2 that “it is important to note that in the contemporary society the cohabitation of unregistered women and men as a phenomenon is socially widely accepted”. Despite this acknowledgement, the interpretation of cohabitation in policy documents is dominated by the politically conservative position that is put forward by Christian NGOs and especially by the NGO “Ģimene” (Family).

Contemporary family policy in Latvia began with the conception of the “State Family Policy”3, which was developed in 2004. This document describes the social services set out to meet the needs of different families with children. In it, unregistered cohabitation is defined as a social problem, along with alcoholism and drug addiction, and is not seen as a social shift in the family paradigm4.
Some adjustments in family policy concerning unregistered cohabitation were made in 2015. For example, the action plan State Family Policy Guidelines for 2011-20175 addresses the problem of unregistered cohabitation. It suggested conducting research about the restrictions on unregistered and cohabiting partners and the problems faced by such couples. According to this action plan, the study results will be used to create informative material for unregistered couples living together as a warning about the risks and thereby will contribute to marriage promotion.

Although there is a lack of support for unmarried people who live together, discrimination against children based on their parents’ marital status is prohibited. Therefore, despite the dominant conservative approach in documents, the support for families with children does not depend on whether the parents are married.  

In the case of divorce, the Latvian policy is more liberal compared to that related to marriage and cohabitation. In 2011, formal divorce proceedings were made non-mandatory in cases in which the couple agrees on property division. This can be arranged with the help of a notary, which significantly accelerates the divorce process. 

Currently the law governing marriage, divorce, and matrimonial property is the Civil Law, which was adopted on 28 January 1937 and was re-established in the sovereign Republic of Latvia on 1 September 1993. At the time of writing, the law has been amended eight times since 2011.

 

Childcare provision
Children are involved in pre-school preparation from the moment they start attending kindergarten or pre-primary education institutions. Pre-school education is available from the age of one and a half, but children also may enter at two, three, four, five, or six years of age. Participation in pre-primary education programmes is mandatory for five- and six-year-old children who do not attend pre-school education institutions. The objective of the pre-school education curriculum is to ensure the multi-faceted development of a child’s personality and to promote health and readiness to enter the primary stage of basic education. Pre-school education is considered a comprehensive first stage of general education and all children must complete it by the time they are seven years old. This deadline may be extended for a year due to a child’s specific health or psychological problems upon parental request or a doctor’s request or recommendations.

Pre-school education can be provided at various pre-primary education institutions (kindergartens) or at special pre-primary classes at general education institutions. Children with special needs attend special pre-school institutions or classes for children with special needs within general education schools. There are public and private pre-primary education institutions. Public sector institutions require that parents make a financial contribution to cover the cost of meals, but access to educational activities is free of charge. The fee charged in private sector institutions mostly covers the full costs of the programme, except for the salaries of educators providing pre-primary education to five and six year olds (state financed).

The coverage of childcare services is one of the most important family support measures. It is still important to provide children with childcare services as widely as possible. The European Union, in 2002, set targets to improve the provision of childcare services – known as the Barcelona objectives. They state that childcare should be provided for 90 % of children between the age of three and the mandatory school age, and for 33 % of children under three (European Commission 2013: 4). In 2007, only 52 % of children in Latvia between the ages of three and six received childcare, but by 2012 and 2013 this had climbed to 79 %. Of children under three years of age, 16 % received childcare services in 2007, and this number rose to 23 % in 2013. It is clear that Latvia slowly improves its indicators concerning the Barcelona objectives but, unfortunately, does not fulfil them yet as well as most European countries.

A number of improvements concerning the amount and terms of subsidies for families are expected, which should have a positive impact on fertility. In 2013, the government of Latvia commenced a support programme (2013 – June 2016) for those parents whose children did not gain admission to municipal kindergartens. The support programme includes financial support for employing babysitters and partially covers expenses for non-state kindergartens. The programme also aims to improve the possibility to combine work and family life. Accordingly, if the market for family support services improves, several social and political goals could be reached simultaneously – a better reconciliation of family and professional life, the reduction of family and child poverty, and creation of legal employment in sector of family services (Abolina 2014: 11). This is particularly significant in the promotion of female employment and encouraging legal employment of family services. This is also important because, in 2012 and 2013, Latvia ranked among the first among 28 countries of European Union in population at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

 

Parental leave (including maternity protection)
Every employee (taxpayer) has the right to parental leave as the result of giving birth to or adopting a child. Such leave shall be granted for a period not exceeding one-and-a-half years and it must be used before the day in which the child reaches the age of eight.

Parental leave is available to both parents and can be structured in two ways: as a non-transferable individual right with an equal amount of leave, or as a family right which parents can divide between themselves as they choose. Parental leave, at the request of an employee, shall be granted as a single period or in parts.

The time spent by an employee on parental leave shall be included in the total length of service. The job of an employee who makes use of parental leave shall be retained. If this is not possible, the employer shall ensure the employee similar or equivalent work with not less favourable conditions and employment provisions.

Parental leave is a state-established support for families, regulated by the Labour Law. Funding for parental leave support and care of the child from birth to the age of one-and-a-half shall be ensured from one of the following two budget programmes:

  • by the social insurance budget (parents’ benefit, for employed parents) 
  • by the state budget (childcare allowance, for unemployed parents). 

Maternity leave and maternity benefits are granted and paid throughout the maternity and childbirth leave period to women who are socially insured. The benefit is paid in two parts – before and after the birth of a child. The first and the second parts of the benefit are paid for a total of 56 or 70 calendar days of pregnancy leave. The 70 days benefit is granted to women who register for maternity benefits before the 12th week of pregnancy (for the first part of the benefit) and to women who acquired health problems during the birth or in the postnatal period, as well as women who gave birth to two or more babies (for the second part of the benefit). The maximum period for which the benefit can be paid is 140 days. In special cases, the maternity benefit for the post-natal period may also be granted to the child’s father or other person caring for the child at home; however, the benefit may not be paid for a period exceeding the 70th day of the child’s life.

The maternity benefit totals 80%2 of the benefit recipient’s average insurance contribution earnings from income for the last 12-month period (also for self-employed persons) for which state social insurance contributions have been made.

Fathers are entitled to paternity leave during the mother’s maternity leave. In Latvia, a socially insured father who has been granted ten days of leave due to birth of his child is entitled to the paternity benefit. Paternity benefit is granted and paid in the amount of 80%6 from the average insurance contribution wage calculated from the last six months’ income by the state social insurance agency.

The maternity benefit and paternity benefit are both funded by the social insurance budget, and benefits granted before 31 December 2014 were limited by a threshold. Since 2015 all restrictions have been cancelled and both maternity and paternity benefits were re-established back to the level prior to Latvia’s economic recession.

Since 2004, when the paternity benefit was introduced, the number of men who have taken paternity leave and received the paternity benefit significantly increased. According to data from the Ministry of Welfare, in the last decade the proportion of fathers who took paternity leave doubled, from 22 % in 2004 to 45 % in 2014. 

 

Family allowances 
Latvia has a universal family benefits system in which more support is provided to families with young children. Social benefits for childcare differ depending on whether the recipients had contributed to social insurance or not. The main benefits consist of:

  • A family state benefit of €11.38 per month is granted for each child between the ages of one and 15 and between 15 and 19 if unmarried and attending a general educational establishment or vocational school. Since 2015 the family state benefit doubled for the second child and tripled for subsequent children. A supplement is provided for children with disabilities and is granted from the day the disability status of the child is established until the day when the disabled child reaches the age of 18, regardless of the payment of the family state benefit. The amount of the supplement to the family state benefit is €106.72.
  • A child birth benefit of €421.17 can be received from the eighth day of child’s life or from the day when guardianship is established. 
  • A childcare benefit is granted to parents taking care of a child up to two years of age. For a child up to one-and-a-half years, the benefit is €171 per month; for a child from one-and-a-half to two years of age, it is €42.69 per month. For multiple births, a supplement of the same amount is provided for each child. 
  • The parental benefit is granted and paid to an insured person who takes care of a child younger than one or one-and-a-half years of age, provided that this person was employed on the day the benefit is approved and is on leave for childcare or due to caring for the child, and does not earn any income as a self-employed person. The parental benefit is not granted for a child if the maternity benefit or childcare benefit is granted for the same period, and therefore it starts 56 (70) days after child has born. Two different payment schemes are available. The parental benefit is granted in the amount of 60 % or 43.75 % from the social insurance contribution wage of the mother or father. The amount depends on duration of the benefit (one or one-and-a-half years), which is declared in the application at the moment of submission. The average amount of the benefit in 2014 was €501.5; the average number of recipients was 12,227. In 2014, 93 % of recipients were women, and 7 % were men. 

In addition, allowances for dependents have been increased during recent years. In 2013, a property tax relief for large families was introduced and in 2012, tax relief for the private vehicles of large families was introduced as well. The state began financing free school meals in 2010, which were first provided to 1st grade students; this has since expanded to the 2nd and 3rd grades in 2014, and the 4th grade in 2015; now many municipalities also provide meals to students in higher grades as well. Local municipalities have established additional support measures for families, in particular for large families, foster families, etc. (for example, discounted admission to cultural events).

The set amount of income that is non-taxable income, as well as relief for dependants (for example, a child, a child pursuing general, professional, higher, or special education until 24 years of age, unemployed spouse, etc.) are applied to personal income tax payers. The amount of non-taxable income and tax relief for dependants are determined by the Cabinet of Ministers on a yearly basis. In 2015, the non-taxable income for employees was set at 75€, and the amount of relief for dependants was 165 €, which constitutes 46 % of the minimum salary in Latvia.

In 2004, support for single-parent families, the State Maintenance Guarantee Fund, was established. The Fund provides child support in the following cases:

  • If the implementation of the court decision (court judgement) on the collection of child support payments is declared impossible by the law enforcement officer;
  • If the parent who has to pay child support for his/her child as determined by the court decision (judgement) pays less than the minimum amount of child support (not exceeding the amount of payment set out by the court decision).

As a result of the recent economic crisis, in 2009, some negative measures were introduced in respect to families. Changes occurred to the family state benefit (it was temporarily reduced for the second or subsequent child), maternity, paternal, and parents’ benefits were reduced by limiting the maximum amount and decreasing the number of people eligible to parents’ benefits. It was originally intended that these restrictions would be eliminated in 2012, but the period of restrictions was extended until 2014. During the last five years the maternity benefit in Latvia was affected by the largest decline in terms of the average amount of expenditures. During the crisis ceilings for the amount of benefits were established, and this resulted not only in the decline of the birth rate but also in the total percentage of GDP spent by the state for family support policies. After the economic recession support for families improved again, and the total fertility rate rose significantly in Latvia.

 

Marriage
According to data from the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB), in the beginning of 2015 40 % of men and 34 % of women in Latvia were married7. However, the popularity of marriage has declined. Eglīte et al. (2013)8  shows that the number of marriages has decreased from 7.2 marriages per 1,000 people in 1992 to 5.5 in 2012. The number of children born to married parents has also decreased. In 1990 80 % of children were born within marriage, whereas this percentage had dropped to 55 % in 2012. Unregistered cohabitation has become a popular alternative to marriage. At the moment, 45 % of children in Latvia are born out of wedlock.9 But despite changing practice, marriage is the only officially recognised and legally protected family form in Latvia. National regulations equate marriage and family. According to the definition in the Civil Law: “In the narrow sense of its definition, a family consists of the spouses and their children while they are still a part of a common household”10. This definition demonstrates that marriage and family are perceived as the same. At the moment unregistered cohabitation in political documents is reflected as a social problem and the promotion of marriages is provided as a solution.

The public discussion about the need for regulations governing homosexual and unregistered partnerships has carried on for almost 15 years in Latvia. Although the social groups that participate in this discussion represent liberal values, the decision-making level is dominated by more conservative forces. As a result of the public discussion, changes were made in 2005 to Article 110 of the Constitution of Latvia11, announcing that “the state protects marriage - a union between a man and a woman”. In addition to this, a new paragraph was introduced in the Civil Law12 indicating that marriage is permitted only for heterosexual couples, thereby prohibiting marriage of homosexual couples.

The present Civil Law specifies the provision for marriage and sets precise limits for those who have the right to enter into marriage and those who do not have such a right, according to the age, gender, and reason for marrying (fictive marriages for immigration purposes are prohibited). Latvian Civil Law also states that a person may marry if he or she has reached at least the age of 18, while also specifying exceptional situations, such as the need for permission from the parents or a guardian, in which a 16 year old may marry a person of the age of majority.

 

Divorce
In Latvia the provision on divorce is established by the Civil Law13. However, the procedure of divorce is established by the Civil Procedure Law14 (Civilprocesa likums). Research from the Ministry of Justice15 states that the Civil Law was adopted on 28 January 1937. From 1921-1937, marriage, divorce, and the absence thereof were regulated according to the Law on Marriage (1 February 1921) and the Law on Civil Status Registration (18 February 1922). However, from 1 January 1938 those matters were regulated according to the Civil Law. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and re-establishment of the sovereign Republic of Latvia, the Civil Law was restored (on 1 September 1993).  In comparison to the original version of the Civil Law the current wording has been adjusted to current requirements and rules. A number of sections of the Civil Law establish provisions on divorce such as: (1) annulment of marriage, (2) divorce, and (3) consequences of annulment and dissolution of marriage. 

There is a section (from Article 60 to Article 67 of the Civil Law) on the annulment of marriage (marriage absence). A marriage can be annulled in six cases: (1) wrong marriage place (marriage has not been registered at the church or registry office), (2) age, (3) one of the spouses was in such a condition that said spouse was not able to understand the meaning of his or her actions or was not able to control them, (4) polygamy and marriage between relatives, (5) a fictive marriage, and (6) a marriage of two persons of the same sex.

The divorce procedure is described in the Section “Dissolution of Marriage” paragraph (Article 69 to 78). The divorce procedure is organised in two ways, depending on whether the couple has been separated for less than three years or more than three years. If spouses have lived separately for more than three years, the length of the divorce process is reduced. The Civil Law also states a number of different reasons for a divorce: (1) a couple has lived separately for at least three years, (2) one of the spouses has submitted an application for divorce, (3) one of the spouses is physically, sexually, psychologically, or economically violent against the other spouse or to the common child, (4) there is an agreement between the spouses to ask for a divorce, (5) one of the spouses has started to live together with another person, and in this cohabitation a child is expected or has been born.

In 2011, the Civil Law was slightly changed. A marriage could now end in divorce through a notary, in the case that both spouses agree to the divorce. Before the amendments of 2011, a marriage could only be dissolved in court. Eglīte et al. (2013)16 argue that the changes in the Civil Law significantly increased the number of divorces, which indicates that the new legal provisions influenced the termination of relationships. Section V. of the Civil Law “Consequences of Annulment and Dissolution of Marriage” establishes the moral and financial responsibilities of spouses after the dissolution of a marriage.

 

Cohabitation and civil unions
The number of people living together without being married has significantly increased in Latvia. Although there are no clear statistics about the number of people who choose to cohabitate, some indicators suggest that the number is high: For example, 45 % of children are born outside of marriage. According to research data (SKDS 2008), public support for cohabitation as a form of family has increased. The social support for the same-sex couples is less visible.

Discussion about the need to recognise cohabitation as a civil union in Latvia has been present at least for the last ten years. Public support for a cohabitation law has been expressed by representatives from the Resource Centre for Women “Marta”, the LGBT community, and the NGO “Mosaic”. On the other hand, religious organisations and the NGO “Family” are against this initiative and defend conservative values and conservative political parties. 

Recently two public events have sparked the discussion again. Firstly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation. On 6 November 2014, he announced on Twitter that he is a homosexual and that there is a need for a cohabitation law in Latvia. Secondly, the supermarket “Maxima” collapsed and 54 people, including a fireman, died. This also initiated a vivid discussion about the need for such a law. The existing regulation denied the fireman’s long-term girlfriend any compensation for her loss. The compensation was given only to the family members – closest relatives and spouses. Despite the wide public debate, cohabitation was not recognised as a civil union in Latvia. Even though there is no cohabitation law, in some cases cohabitation has recently been recognised de facto. For example Article 12 of the Criminal Law determines an individual’s right to request information in criminal cases. This applies not only to engaged partners, spouses, parents, grandchildren, brothers, and sisters but also to a person with whom one lives in the same household. Civil Procedure Law17 includes the provision for protection against violence not only for relatives but also for persons “who live or lived in the same household”. 

Putniņa (2015) explains that there are no functional differences between marriage and cohabitation, but at the moment state does not provide enough protection for cohabitating persons. The main differences in rights are related to: (1) inheritance if one partner dies, (2) the right to obtain medical information and decide on behalf of one’s partner in the case of health problems, (3) no regulation for property relations if a cohabitation is terminated. Marital status does not influence state support for children.

 

Authors – Contributors
Childcare, Parental leave & Family allowances:
Līga Āboliņa
Faculty of Economics and Management, University of Latvia

Marriage, Divorce & Cohabitation:
Ilze Mileiko
University of Latvia

Bibliography

 

Notes

1 Latvijas Republikas Satversme. "Latvijas Vēstnesis", 43, 01.07.1993., "Ziņotājs", 6, 31.03.1994.
2 Ģimenes valsts politikas pamatnostādnes 2011. - 2017.gadam. Available at: http://www.lm.gov.lv/upload/berns_gimene/bernu_tiesibas/akti/gimpamatpre...
3 Koncepcija „Par atbalstu ģimenēm ar bērniem (Valsts ģimenes politika)”, 2004. Available at: http://polsis.mk.gov.lv/LoadAtt/file36511.doc
4 Ibid
5 Ģimenes valsts politikas pamatnostādnes 2011. - 2017.gadam. Available at: http://www.lm.gov.lv/upload/berns_gimene/bernu_tiesibas/akti/gimpamatpre...
6 Until 03.11.2010. The paternity leave benefit was paid in the amount of 100 % from the average insurance contribution wage, but due to the budgetary consolidation reasons the amount was reduced.
7 CSP datubāzē ILG04. laulības noslēgušo vecuma struktūra. Available at: http://data.csb.gov.lv/pxweb/lv/Sociala/Sociala__ikgad__iedz__laulibas/I....
Eglīte et al. (2013).
8 Ibid
9 Ibid
10 Civillikums, Latvijas Vēstnesis Nr.41, 20.02.1937 in subparagraph – 214. Available at:  http://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=225418
11 Latvijas Republikas Satversme. "Latvijas Vēstnesis", 43, 01.07.1993., "Ziņotājs", 6, 31.03.1994.
12 Civillikums, Latvijas Vēstnesis Nr.41, 20.02.1937. http://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=225418
13 Ibid
14 Civilprocesa likums. "Latvijas Vēstnesis", 326/330 (1387/1391), 03.11.1998., "Ziņotājs", 23, 03.12.1998. Available at: http://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=50500
15 Pētījums Ģimenes tiesībās Civillikuma Ģimenes tiesību daļas modernizācijai (2008) Tieslietu ministrija: Available at: https://www.tm.gov.lv/lv/nozares-politika/petijumi
16 Eglīte et al. (2013).
17 Civilprocesa likums. "Latvijas Vēstnesis", 326/330 (1387/1391), 03.11.1998., "Ziņotājs", 23, 03.12.1998. Available at: http://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=50500