Fundamentally, the Hungarian family policy system is based on the assumption that most children under age three will be cared for at home; i.e., that the vast majority of mothers will suspend their participation in the labour market for several years after giving birth. During this period, families are supported by four main types of allowance, which until recently were granted only to parents who were not in paid employment. From 1 January 2014 onwards the system has been more flexible, as is explained in greater detail below.
While most state nurseries accept children from the age of 20 weeks onwards, in practice most of the children enrolled in nursery care are at least two years old. In Hungary, social standards do not support the enrolment of very young children in community nurseries, but instead place pressure on mothers to care for their children at home. According to statistics, only 20% of children enrolled in nurseries in 2013 were younger than two years old. Overall, nurseries provide daytime childcare for around 8% of children younger than three years old.
These norms and the origin of the system can be traced back to the 1960s, when the first childcare allowance was introduced and regulations made it possible for mothers to suspend their labour market participation in order to care for their children at home. At that time this leave system was justified by the oversupply of labour together with socialist economic ideology, which considered unemployment unacceptable. The benefits provided during the socialist era have survived the change in political regimes, and are today an integral part of family policy in Hungary.
In 2014, there were four types of monetary allowance designed to make it easier for mothers to care for their children at home. The first two allowances are payable to employed parents, and the amount of each allowance depends on the mother’s previous salary. The pregnancy and confinement benefit is paid during the 168 days of maternity leave, while the childcare fee is paid after the first benefit expires, and until the child reaches the age of two. The other two allowance types are guaranteed benefits which are paid regardless of whether the mother was previously employed, and are thus mainly used by non-working mothers. The childcare allowance is payable from the birth of the child and until the child is three years old, while the childcare support benefit is payable from the age of three until the age of eight to parents of three or more children. These two benefits are fixed-amount allowances.
These allowances generally end before the first birthday of the child if the parent receiving the benefit re-enters the labour market. In some cases, however, the parent can continue to receive the full allowance even after returning to full-time employment. In recent years, changes in the law have made it possible for employees to request part-time employment from the employer until the child reaches the age of three, and the employer is legally obliged to comply with this request.
While there are various types of monetary benefits for parents in Hungary, the family allowance is the most important, as the payment of this allowance is guaranteed to every family from the date of birth of the first child onwards. However, when a child starts to participate in compulsory education, eligibility is subject to certain restrictions. The amount of family allowance is higher if there is more than one child in the family, and for single parents.
In the regulation of partnerships, the Hungarian system is—at least theoretically—conservative, with a bias towards marriage. But in practice and in the details of the law, this bias is not perceptible. On the one hand, for example, the Hungarian constitution emphasises that marriage between a man and a woman is considered preferable to cohabitation without marriage, and that the state protects the institution of marriage. On the other hand, the law permits a form of official cohabitation for same-sex couples (“registered partnership”) which is very similar to marriage, and civil law in general has an increasing number of detailed and generous provisions that regulate the rights and obligations of cohabiting partners who are not married.
In Hungary, the primary source of institutional childcare for children younger than three years old are the nurseries operated by local governments. Children may be admitted to a nursery from the age of 20 weeks onwards, but in practice very few parents enrol their child before he or she is at least one year old, and in most cases not until after the child’s second birthday. This is because paid parental childcare leave makes it possible for the majority of mothers to care for their child at home for two or three years before returning to employment. The majority of Hungarian families consider it to be much more desirable for the mother to stay home than for the child to be enrolled in a nursery. As a consequence, only around 9% of children under the age of three are in nursery childcare.
Fees for nursery childcare were not charged until recently. Previously, parents only had to cover the cost of the child’s meals. As the fee is set by the nursery operator, there may be sharp differences between the fees charged by different institutions. In certain places, the local government continues to provide childcare free of charge.
The main alternatives to nursery childcare are family daycare and childcare in the home. However, the first form of care is quite rare, and while the second form of care is becoming increasingly widespread, it continues to be far less popular than nursery care. This is primarily because the state provides no subsidies for these private forms of childcare, which can be quite expensive. Consequently, family daycare is used primarily by well-off families and by those who need part-time daycare services.
Children may be enrolled in kindergarten after reaching the age of three. As in nurseries, children receive all-day care. Unlike in nurseries, however, some three-quarters of the children in the corresponding age group are attending kindergarten, because it is considered acceptable by most families for children over age three to participate in education and childcare within the institutional framework.
The majority of kindergartens are state-financed and childcare is free of charge; the parents only have to pay for meals.
The children are obliged to attend compulsory education after reaching the age of six.
Parental leave (including maternity protection)
Hungarian employees are entitled to maternity leave and unpaid childcare leave. Maternity leave, which has maximum length of 168 days, may be taken by the mother, or in certain cases (such as in the case of adoption) by another person. Unpaid childcare leave may be taken by a parent who is caring for the child at home until the child reaches the age of three, and in certain cases for a longer period. There are four types of monetary benefits for families, and the vast majority of parents—including those who are not working—receive at least one of them. Thus, in Hungary it is extremely rare for a parent to stay home with a small child without receiving any monetary benefit.
During the period of maternity leave, a mothers who is an employee (and who fulfils certain criteria) is entitled to 70% of the amount of her salary. This benefit is called the pregnancy and confinement benefit (TGYÁS), and its amount is not subject to any upper limit. When maternity leave ends, the parents may choose to receive the childcare allowance (GYED), which is payable until the child reaches the age of two (or until the age of three in the case of twins). However, the parent must have been previously employed to receive the allowance. The amount of the GYED is also 70% of the previous salary, but there is an upper limit. The third benefit is the childcare allowance (GYES), which is designed for parents who are not entitled to receive either the TGYÁS or the GYED. It is a guaranteed benefit, which means that it is not based on previous employment or income level. The stay-at-home parent (in most cases the mother) receives a fixed allowance until the child reaches age three. While the amount is relatively low, this allowance is very popular in a country where it is the social norm for mothers to care for their children at home. A parent who was previously employed is also eligible for the GYES allowance when the child is between the ages of two and three (after the expiration of the GYED).
Relative to the rest of Europe, paid benefits were introduced relatively early in Hungary: paid maternity leave in 1891, the GYES in 1967, and the GYED in 1985. In certain years, parents were permitted to take a part-time job after the first birthday of the child without losing their GYES allowance. However, for a long period of time employers were not required to allow employees who recently had a child to move to a part-time schedule. Furthermore, until 2014 parents receiving the GYED were not permitted to have any form of paid employment.
In recent years, this inflexible system has started to change. First in the public and then in the private sector, employers were required to allow an employee returning from leave to move to a part-time schedule until the child reaches age three. Since 1 January 2014, parents have been allowed to continue to receive the GYES or the GYED when they return to work either part- or full-time after the child’s first birthday.
The fourth type of monetary benefit is called childcare support (GYET). This is a guaranteed benefit payable to families who are bringing up three or more children, and whose youngest child is between the ages of three and eight. The size of the allowance is equal to that of the GYES, and parents are permitted to work either part- or full-time while receiving the GYET.
In Hungary, family support is provided mainly in the form of monetary allowances, and 99% of parents raising children are receiving a family allowance. In recent years, however, a new form of tax relief has been introduced which affects a significant proportion of families, and which favours those paying income tax or at least social contributions.
Family allowances have been a feature of the Hungarian family support system since 1912. When allowances were first provided, relatively few families were eligible to receive them. Although they were extended to a wider range of workers starting in the 1930s, eligibility for family allowances was based on the parent’s employment relationship or insured status until the change in political regimes.
Initially, the family allowance amount was not adjusted according to the number of children, and even one-child families were eligible to receive payments. However, in 1953 families with only one child were excluded from receiving the allowance. This system did not change until 1986, when families with only one child became eligible to receive an allowance until the child reached age six. At that point, however, the benefit was terminated if the family did not have a second child. Shortly after the political change in 1990, the family allowance became a guaranteed benefit which was payable to all families with children until the child or children reached the age of majority. As of 2014, the family allowance was payable monthly to all families starting with the birth of the first child. The amount increases with the number of children, and is higher for single parents. However, as the amount of the allowance has been unchanged since 2008, its value in real terms has decreased significantly in recent years.
While income tax relief for families was first introduced in 1987, only families with three or more children qualified for it until 2010. At that time tax relief was extended primarily to families with working parents. In 2011 a new system was introduced in which families could qualify for a tax deduction when they became pregnant with their first child. However, as supporting larger families continued to be a government priority, the amount of the tax deduction is much higher for families with three or more children than for families with just one or two children. Under this system, the consolidated tax base of individuals before the establishment of the amount of pre-paid tax is reduced. Since there are no tax credits in Hungary, families who were paying a smaller amount of income tax could not take full advantage of the tax relief offered. Thus, since 2013 the family tax deduction may also be taken from health security and pension contributions.
In Hungary, the regulation of entry into marriage has been reasonably stable since laws on civil marriage were first introduced in 1895. However, changes in marriage regulations since 1985 have not been in a single direction. For example, the minimum legal age for marriage has shifted back and forth between 12 and 20 years. The political and economic changes which took place starting in 1989 have had almost no direct influence on family law.
Since 1986, the minimum age of marriage was set at 18 for both the bride and the groom. However, partners up to two years younger could obtain permission to marry from the guardianship authority.
Under the new Hungarian constitution—which was adopted in 2011, went into effect in 2012, and amended in 2013—stated that marriage has priority over non-marital cohabitation, and emphasised the state’s role in protecting marriage. Moreover, an amendment passed in 2013 stated unambiguously that marriage must be between a man and a woman, and thus prohibited any legislation which would have permitted same-sex marriage. Since 2009, however, same-sex partners have been allowed to enter into a marriage-like registered partnership (see: cohabitation and civil unions).
In Hungary, the legal regulation of divorce has been quite stable. As divorce by judicial process has been permitted since 1895, civil divorce is as old as civil marriage.
Between 1945 and 1950 and in parallel to the establishment of the communist dictatorship, barriers to divorce were mostly removed, and divorce (and remarriage) became quite fast, easy, and simple. During this period, the option of unilateral no-fault divorce was introduced. However, in contrast to developments in western European countries, in subsequent years amendments to the rules regarding divorce were, on the whole, more restrictive (in 1952, 1986) than permissive (in 1964, 1995, 2014) in nature.
In the period between 1952 and 2014, the most significant changes in direct relation to divorce were the introduction of divorce by mutual consent, and the alternate tightening and loosening of the restrictions related to the obligatory reconciliation hearing (i.e., the requirement that the court must try to bring about a reconciliation between the parties before granting a divorce). Currently, divorce by mutual consent, which does not specify which party was at fault, is the most widespread form of divorce. Thus, the change in the divorce laws which took place around 1950 currently prevails.
Many of the changes to divorce regulations were practical modifications reflecting the current social environment. In particular, the regulations relating to spouse and child maintenance and childcare (in 1953, 1974, 1986, 2014) became increasingly detailed as the number of divorces—and thus the number of partners and children who were affected by union dissolution—grew. The changes in regulations therefore did not always point in the same direction. While it was once the case that the court or the parents (in case of mutual agreement) had broad discretion in settling partner and child maintenance issues, today these arrangements are largely pre-determined based on legal regulations. For example, since 2014 the law may specify the exact duration of spouse maintenance after divorce, or it may prescribe that the amount of child maintenance will not be a fixed proportion of salary, but rather an absolute amount.
Cohabitation and civil unions
Currently in Hungary, three different forms of extramarital living arrangements are regulated by law.
(1) Since 2009 only same-sex partners have been permitted to enter into a marriage-like registered partnership. The main differences between a marriage and a registered partnership are as follows:
- The minimum age for entering into a registered partnership is 18, with no exceptions granted by the guardianship authority.
- Registered partners are not permitted to adopt a child together.
- The regulations relating to the participation in reproductive technologies which apply to married couples do not apply to registered partners.
(2) Another official procedure, which has been in place since 2010, allows couples to have a statement that they are in a cohabitating partnership verified by a notary public. This verification can be requested by both same- and different-sex couples. An official document of verification is issued by the notary public, which is then filed with the registry of partnership statements. While this verification has implications for matters of civil law, it does not grant the partnership a status equivalent to that of marriage.
(3) Naturally, it is also possible for couples to live together without signing any formal agreement (de facto cohabitation). The definition of this form of cohabitation is fairly loose: “Cohabitees are two persons living together in the same household in emotional and economic community without contracting marriage”. Cohabitation has been recognised as a category of Hungarian civil law since 1977. Since that time, the “cohabiting partner” has been mentioned in a range of laws on different subjects (as of 2005, the term was included in more than 300 laws and regulations). If a couple are involved in a legal dispute, the court determines whether their relationship constitutes a de facto cohabitation. Overall in Hungary, the protections granted to cohabiting partnerships verified by a notary public and de facto cohabiting partnerships are much less comprehensive than those extended to married couples. At the same time, the growing number of regulations related to cohabiting partnerships tend to reinforce the legal standing of these partners. For example, cohabiting partners may be entitled to survivor’s pensions (since 2007), and in certain cases to maintenance (since 2014).
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