Family law in the Russian Federation: overview

A Q&A guide to family law in the Russian Federation.

The Q&A gives a high level overview of key issues including jurisdiction and conflict of law; pre- and post-nuptial agreements; divorce, nullity, and judicial separation; children; surrogacy and adoption; cohabitation; family dispute resolution; civil partnership/same-sex marriage; and controversial areas and reform.

To compare answers across multiple jurisdictions visit the Family Country Q&A tool.

This Q&A is part of the multi-jurisdictional guide to Family law. This contribution, in its original form, first appeared in Family Law (2nd edition), General Editor James Stewart of Penningtons Manches LLP. Family Law was published in association with the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit

Catherine Heath, Divorce in Russia

Jurisdiction and conflict of law

Regulatory framework

1. What are the primary sources of law in relation to marriage, marital breakdown and the welfare of children and give a brief overview of which courts will have jurisdiction to hear the dispute?

Sources of law

Russia is a civil law jurisdiction. Statutory law is the only source of law. At the top of the hierarchy of laws is the Federal Constitution, followed in order of precedence by federal legislation and legislation at the regional level adopted in compliance with, and subject to, federal law.

Family law is predominantly regulated by federal statutes, the most significant being:

  • The Civil Code of Russia 1996.

  • The Family Code of Russia 1996.

  • The Federal Law on Acts of Civil Status 1997.

  • The Federal Law on Guarantees of the Rights of the Child 1998.

  • The Federal Law on Custody and Guardianship 2008.

Court rulings and legal doctrine are not sources of law in Russia. Courts generally decide cases using legislative provisions on a case-by-case basis, without relying on previous judicial decisions. The publication of case reports and legal opinion are generally unofficial or commercial in nature. However, the Plenum of the Supreme Court of Russia adopted a number of resolutions concerning family law issues which provide important guidelines for subordinate courts and legal practitioners.

International treaties and conventions signed and ratified by Russia are fundamental for the country's legal system. On ratification they become part of law and prevail over national law in the event of a conflict (section 15(4), Constitution of Russia).

Court system

Family matters are within the competence of general jurisdiction courts. Justices of Peace hear minor matrimonial matters, such as uncomplicated divorces, for example:

  • Divorces that do not involve parenting disputes.

  • Financial settlements in cases of divorce where the spousal asset pool is less than RUB50,000.

More complex matters are handled within the jurisdiction of the district courts. In terms of court hierarchy, the next highest courts are the state courts, and, finally, the Supreme Court of Russia.

In general, family proceedings take place in open court, except for adoption cases. However, at a party's request the court can hold closed hearings if satisfied it is necessary for the protection of the interested parties' privacy (section 10, Civil Procedure Code).


2. What are the main requirements for local courts to have jurisdiction in relation to divorce, property and children proceedings?

Russian courts have jurisdiction in nearly all matrimonial matters, where both parties are Russian citizens irrespective of their domicile, habitual residency or location of their assets.


Where one of the spouses is a foreign national or a stateless person, the Russian court has jurisdiction if (section 402(3)(2), Civil Procedure Code):

  • Either the husband or wife is resident in Russia.

  • Either the husband or wife is a Russian national.

  • The respondent has property in Russia.

The dissolution of marriage can then proceed under the provisions of Russian law (section 160(1), Family Code).


The Russian court can resolve financial disputes involving at least one spouse of a foreign nationality if (section 402(3), Civil Procedure Code):

  • The respondent is resident in Russia.

  • The respondent has property on its territory.

  • It is a spousal support matter and the claimant is a Russian resident.

Financial rights and the obligations of spouses are governed by the law of the country where they have a common place of residence. If they do not have one, the law of the state where they last had a common place of residence applies. If neither applies, the property rights and obligations are governed by Russian law (section 161(1), Family Code).

Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements

When two parties, who do not have common citizenship or residency, enter into a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, they can choose which country's law will apply to their agreement. In addition, they can choose the appropriate forum to deal with any possible disputes under the agreement in future. If the forum is not chosen, the Russian court will hear the case if the claim arises out of a pre- or post-nuptial agreement that is to be performed or part-performed in Russia (section 402(6), Civil Procedure Code).


Russian courts have jurisdiction in children's matters involving foreign nationals if the (section 402(3)(3) of the Civil Procedure Code):

  • Respondent parent has a place of residence in Russia.

  • Respondent parent has property in Russia.

  • Claimant is a Russian resident in child support and paternity matters.

Parental rights and responsibilities are governed by the law of the state where the parents lived together. If they do not have a common place of residence, their rights and duties are determined by the law of the state of which the child is a national. In child support and other children's matters, the court can apply the law of the state where the child is habitually resident, at the claimant's request (section 163, Family Code).

Domicile and habitual residence

3. How do the concepts of domicile and habitual residence apply in relation to divorce, financial arrangements, and children?

While there is no concept of domicile or habitual residence in Russian law, "permanent residence" (often called "place of residence") sometimes operates as the test to determine jurisdictional matters. Permanent residence means the place where a person primarily or permanently resides (section 20(1), Civil Code). Rather than attachment to land in general, it is defined as "a house, an apartment or any other dwelling where a person permanently or temporarily resides as an owner, tenant or on another legal basis" (section 2, Freedom of Movement Act 1993).

Residency registration is mandatory for all Russian citizens residing on its territory. Even if they relocate and permanently reside overseas, as long as they maintain their registration, in the legal sense they are considered to be Russian residents.

The case is different with foreign nationals, who by virtue of law cannot be permanently registered in Russia. Their permanent residency in matrimonial proceedings is determined by analogy with the tax legislation (183 days or more in a year) (section 207, Tax Code of Russia).

Conflict of law

4. What procedure applies for a party applying to stay proceedings in favour of a foreign jurisdiction? What factors do local courts take into account when determining forum issues?


There are no concepts of a "more appropriate forum" or "inappropriate forum" in Russian law. If the matter falls within the Russian jurisdiction, the court will hear it.


Where there are similar proceedings pending in a court of a different jurisdiction between the same parties, with the same subject matter and grounds, the Russian court will dismiss the new petition and terminate the proceedings (section 220, Civil Procedure Code). This only applies to matters where foreign court orders are recognisable and enforceable in Russia (section 409, Civil Procedure Code). A decision is capable of being recognised in two situations:

  • If the competing jurisdiction is a reciprocating jurisdiction (that is a jurisdiction that has a treaty on mutual recognition of court orders in family matters with Russia).

  • If the nature of the decision is such that it does not require any enforcement (section 409, Civil Procedure Code) for example, paternity or divorce court rulings.

If foreign court orders are not enforceable, the Russian court will proceed to resolve the matter.


Pre- and post-nuptial agreements

Validity of pre- and post-nuptial agreements

5. To what extent are pre- and post-nuptial agreements binding?

Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements are two very similar legal instruments from the standpoint of Russian law. Both are governed by the same Chapter 8 of the Family Code, and both carry the name of a marital contract.

The only difference between the two is when they come into force. While a post-nuptial agreement is effective immediately upon its execution and notarial certification, a pre-nuptial agreement, signed and certified, comes into force once the parties actually marry.

A marital contract is an agreement that determines the financial rights and obligations of the spouses (section 40, Family Code). It cannot regulate any matters apart from those of a strictly financial nature. Such issues as parenting, child support and spousal duties of a personal nature are beyond its scope. There are further limitations on the content of the contract. A marital contract cannot restrict the legal capacity of a spouse, or contain any waivers of the right to challenge the contract in court, or restrict the right of a disabled spouse to receive maintenance from the other.

The procedural formalities are minimal. The contract does not require to be witnessed and independent legal advice is not a prerequisite. However, in order to be binding, the contract must be signed by both parties together before a notary.

In almost 20 years of its existence in Russian legal practice, the marital contract has proved to be a fairly robust legal instrument. Courts are quite reluctant to render them void. Grounds for declaring a marital contract invalid are outlined in the Civil Code, and are common to all types of contracts. These include non-compliance with the formal requirements of the contracts, fraud, mistake, misrepresentation, lack of capacity and duress.

An additional ground for challenging a marital contract is if it puts one party in an extremely unfavourable position (section 44, Family Code). An extremely unfavourable position essentially means that one of the spouses is put in a position where their financial rights are significantly compromised and impaired by the terms of the contract; it anticipates an unjust and unfair contract. By way of illustration, a contract under the terms of which all of the spousal assets acquired during marriage or their vast majority go to one spouse, or a contract leaving a spouse without the means of supporting himself or herself, is likely to be found extremely unfavourable to a spouse.

One of the reasons for the robust nature of the marital contract is that relatively short limitation periods have been set for challenging it. The limitation period for claims with respect to voidable marital contracts is one year, and three years in relation to contracts that are void (section 181(2), Civil Procedure Code).


Divorce, nullity and judicial separation

Recognition of foreign marriages/divorces

6. Are foreign marriages/divorces/civil partnerships recognised?


Foreign marriages are recognised provided they are entered into in compliance with the respective foreign jurisdiction legal requirements and are not void under section 14 of the Family Code. In Russian law a marriage is deemed void if:

  • Either party is already married.

  • The parties are closely related (that is relatives in the line directly ascending or descending such as parents and children, grandfather, grandmother and grandchildren; and marriages between brothers and sisters, as well as half-brothers and half-sisters, adopted children and their parents).

  • Either party is mentally disabled at the time of the marriage.

Further bars to marriage are set out in various other sections of the Family Code. Thus, a valid marriage is a union of a man or a woman, both of whom should be of a marriageable age of at least 18 years (or 16 years in exceptional cases). A marriage solemnised in church does not bring about any legal consequences.


Divorce orders granted by foreign courts are deemed to be valid if neither party objects to them (section 409, Civil Procedure Code). There is no requirement to register a foreign divorce order with the Russian authorities or get judicial recognition in the country.

Civil partnerships

See Question 26.


7. What are the grounds for divorce?


There are two mechanisms by which a marriage can be terminated in Russia: judicial and administrative.

Where there are no minor children to the marriage and both parties consent to the divorce, the administrative procedure applies (section 19, Family Code). The administrative procedure is also prescribed where one of the spouses is declared missing or legally incompetent by the court or is sentenced to more than three years of imprisonment. Consenting parties must file their joint divorce petition with the Civil Acts Registration Office. The marriage is terminated one month later, if neither party withdraws their consent. Russian consulates and diplomatic offices have authority to register divorces of Russian nationals overseas (section 160(2), Family Code).

Couples who have minor children or where one of the spouses contests the divorce (section 21, Family Code) must apply to court for a divorce order. If one of the spouses, despite having no objections to the divorce, is unwilling or unable to attend the Civil Acts Registration Office to lodge a joint divorce petition, the court is again the appropriate venue for marriage termination.

The sole ground for divorce is an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage (section 22, Family Code). No specific separation period is required. In essence, the wish to end the marriage as expressed in a divorce petition by one of the spouses is sufficient.

Where one of the spouses contests the divorce, a court can adjourn the final hearing for no longer than three months. If the parties fail to reconcile, and at least one of them still pursues the divorce, the court will grant it.


The court may find a marriage void on one of the following grounds:

  • If it was entered into involuntarily.

  • If either party was not of marriageable age.

  • If either party was married at the date of the marriage.

  • Where spouses are closely related (that is, relatives in the line directly ascending or descending such as parents and children, grandfather, grandmother and grandchildren; and marriages between brothers and sisters, as well as half-brothers and half-sisters, adopted children and their parents).

  • Where either party was mentally disabled at the time of entering into a marriage.

  • If one of the spouses concealed the fact that they were infected with a venereal disease or HIV.

  • If the marriage was fictitious (registered without intent to make a family).

However, in some cases, where nullity grounds no longer exist at the date of the hearing, the court can dismiss a claim for annulment of the marriage, for example, if the spouses have both reached marriageable age and continue living as husband and wife.

A void marriage has no legal consequences (section 30, Family Code). A pre- or post-nuptial agreement between the parties to a void marriage is also considered to be a nullity. As a result, a financial agreement between spouses or spouses-to-be cannot anticipate and provide for the event of the marriage being annulled.

Finances/capital and property

8. What powers do the courts have to allocate financial resources and property on the breakdown of marriage?

Russia's inquisitorial legal system, gives courts wide powers to gather evidence, as well as to assist parties to financial settlement proceedings in the discovery process.

9. What factors are relevant to the exercise of the court's powers?

The key factors relevant to the exercise of the court's powers are the availability and location of the assets of spouses.

Financial resources that are considered to be jointly owned by spouses and form the spousal asset pool are (section 34, Family Code):

  • Their income, such as employee remuneration, pension and social security benefits.

  • Movable and immovable property purchased with the couple's joint funds.

Marital property can only comprise assets held under both or either of the spouses' names. Assets owned by third parties are excluded. As a result, property in trust or owned by legal entities of which one or both spouses are shareholders will not be included regardless of how much control either or both parties exercise over the respective companies or trusts and whether they are their beneficiaries.

Financial resources that are not included in the spousal assets pool are property acquired by one of the spouses prior to the marriage, or received during the course of the marriage as a gift, inheritance or other gratuity (section 36, Family Code).

An area of concern in property settlement matters relates to spousal assets located overseas. Russian courts are generally reluctant to take them into consideration in property settlement proceedings, despite there being no explicit prohibitions in this respect in legislation. This is because:

  • The inclusion of such assets in property settlement cases inevitably complicates proceedings and often results in significant delays in case hearings.

  • Gathering information on foreign assets is a difficult task from a practical standpoint. Subpoenas issued by Russian authorities to overseas banks and other companies are often not complied with. This is partly due to the lack of international treaties between Russia and other countries on legal assistance in civil and family cases.

10. What is the court's current position on the division of assets?

Financial settlements can take place during the marriage or during the three years after its termination.

The spouses' shares in joint property are considered to be equal. A court can increase or decrease spousal share in exceptional circumstances, for instance, when one of the spouses did not receive income during the marriage for no valid reason or when they wasted joint property (section 39, Family Code).


11. How does ongoing spousal maintenance operate following marital breakdown?

Despite the Family Code general provision requiring spouses to support each other financially, the legal grounds for spousal support are quite limited. A spouse or a former spouse is entitled to maintenance when:

  • That person is disabled or has reached pension age and has insufficient means to meet the costs of living. The disability must occur during the marriage or within one year of its termination; pension age must be reached within five years of the divorce.

  • The wife is pregnant or has care of a child of the marriage under the age of three.

  • A spouse has care of a disabled child of the marriage and that spouse has insufficient means to meet the cost of living (sections 89 to 90, Family Code).

12. Is it common for maintenance to be awarded on marital breakdown?

Spousal maintenance awards are rare as the grounds on which a judge can impose this duty on a spouse are very limited (see Question 11).

13. What is the court's current position on maintenance on marital breakdown?

The law in Russia provides that spousal maintenance must meet the general needs of the parties, and is not concerned with keeping the same living standard for former spouses. Therefore, court orders do not normally provide for large amounts of financial support.

A court can dismiss a maintenance claim or limit the duration of spousal support when the marriage was short-lived, or if a party is claiming financial support on the grounds of disability, and incurred it as a result of alcohol or drug abuse, or criminal activity. A party can also be refused spousal maintenance due to their significant misconduct during marriage.

Child maintenance

14. On what basis is child maintenance calculated?

The parents of a minor child can enter into an agreement governing the issues of child support (Child Support Agreement) or resolve the matter through the courts, if they are unable to achieve an amicable decision.

In the absence of an agreement the minimum amount of child support is set by law at the rate of (section 81, Family Code):

  • One-quarter of a parent's income for one child.

  • One-third of the parent's income for two children.

  • One-half of the parent's income for three or more children.

The level of support can be increased or decreased by a court depending on the financial and family circumstances of the parties and other relevant conditions, although it is unusual for a court to alter the legally prescribed amount.

A child support agreement gives parties a slightly higher degree of flexibility. It allows the amount of the agreement to be fixed as a monetary equivalent rather than a share of income. In addition, the parties can agree to a lump sum payment of the whole amount due, or to the transfer of real or other property in lieu of child support under the terms of such an instrument. However, a child support agreement cannot set the amount of child support at a lesser rate than the minimum amount prescribed by section 81 of the Family Code.

Reciprocal enforcement of financial orders

15. What is the legal position on the reciprocal enforcement of financial orders?

A foreign financial order where it is not voluntarily observed by the parties can only be enforced in Russia if granted by a court of a reciprocating jurisdiction; that is by a jurisdiction that has a treaty with Russia on mutual recognition and enforcement of judicial acts in family matters (section 409, Civil Procedure Code). An enforcement action must then be filed with the competent Russian court (section 411, Civil Procedure Code). There are only a few countries Russia has relevant agreements with. In the event that the financial order was granted by a court of a non-reciprocating jurisdiction (for example, the US, the UK or Australia) and the debtor refuses to voluntarily comply with the order, the only avenue available to the aggrieved spouse would be to repeat the litigation in Russia. The case would be heard anew and the matter resolved on its merits.

It is important to note that Russia has exclusive jurisdiction in relation to all real property located on its territory. Therefore, no foreign judicial act with respect to Russian real assets will have force and effect in Russia whether granted in the reciprocating jurisdiction or otherwise.

Financial relief after foreign divorce proceedings

16. What powers are available to the court to make orders following a foreign divorce?

If the parties were divorced in another jurisdiction, this fact in itself does not preclude Russian courts from dealing with outstanding financial issues between the ex-spouses. Both can apply for financial relief, as long as the Russian court has jurisdiction to hear the case. No special leave is required to commence financial proceedings.



Custody/parental responsibility

17. What is the legal position in relation to custody/parental responsibility following the breakdown of a relationship or marriage?

There is a presumption of equal parental responsibility in Russian family law. This essentially means that parents have equal rights and responsibilities with respect to their minor children (section 61, Family Code ). They have the right and the duty to bring up their children, and have responsibility for their children's health, physical, psychological and ethical development.

Parents have the primary right to care for their children (section 63, Family Code) unless the court is satisfied that they are unfit to provide adequate care or abandon the child. Parents are their children's legal representatives in all organisations and courts (section 64, Family Code).

The presumption of equal parental responsibility is so strong that it rarely becomes the subject of a challenge in court. It can only be rebutted if there is sufficient evidence to prove that contact with the party whose parental rights are sought to be restricted, would expose the child to a risk of violence or abuse.

18. What is the legal position in relation to access/contact/visitation following the breakdown of a relationship or marriage?

Parents that live separately can sign a written agreement to settle the issue of child custody and contact with the child (section 66, Family Code).

If the parents cannot come to an amicable solution and there is a dispute about where the child should live, it is within the competence of a court to resolve it. A parent living separately from their child has a right to communicate with him or her and to participate in the child's upbringing and long-term decision making (section 66(1), Family Code). A parent with whom the child primarily resides has a corresponding duty to refrain from hindering such communication, unless there is a probability of physical or psychological harm to the child (section 66(2), Family Code). The parent residing separately from his or her child has a right to receive information about the child from educational, medical, social institutions and all other organisations.

In resolving parental disputes and determining what the best interests of the child are in a particular set of circumstances, the court takes into consideration the factors spelt out in section 65 of the Family Code:

  • The attachment of a child to each parent and to any siblings.

  • The child's age.

  • Moral and other qualities of the parents.

  • Each parent's relationship with the child.

  • Each parent's capacity to provide for the needs of the child, considering their occupation, financial and family circumstances.

Parents' rights are not affected by factors such as their nationality or country of origin or residency. However, if parents reside in different countries, this will inevitably affect the pattern of their contact with the child due to the costs and time involved in international travel.

Importantly, there is no principle that the presumption of equal parental responsibility provides that children have a right to spend meaningful time with both parents. A court would normally appoint a primary carer, who the child will reside with, while allocating certain time for the other parent and the child.

Typically, primary care is granted to a mother, unless there is evidence that she is unfit to fulfil the role. The father will generally be allocated two to three full days to spend with the child every fortnight, and spend a few weeks with the child during the school holidays.

Where a case concerns parents residing abroad, the pattern of contact is adjusted depending on the parents' capacity to travel to Russia. It is not uncommon for a court to restrict overseas travel of a child, if there is a possibility of the child's relocation against the will of the applicant parent.

International abduction

19. What is the legal position on international abduction?

Russia is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 and the Hague Convention on Parental Responsibility and Protection of Children 1996, which came into force in 2011 and 2013 respectively.

In 2014, the Russian Parliament adopted the new Federal Act on Amendments to Some Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Connection with the Accession of the Russian Federation to the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction that aims to fill in the gaps in the national legislation and provides for some practical mechanisms of the implementation of the conventions in Russia.

Eight district courts were granted jurisdiction in Hague matters, including their power to grant injunction orders prohibiting the defaulting parent to change his and/or the child's place of residence. The Civil Procedure Code now specifies time frames, rules of service and other procedures of the implementation of the conventions in Russia. The Act permits the use of private detective services, widens the powers of state bailiffs and details the procedure of the handover of children.

Despite the positive progression in the area of child abduction, there are substantial grounds for scepticism as to whether Russia will readily fulfil its international obligations under the Hague Conventions. The Hague Convention 1980 has been in operation for over four years in Russia, yet only two matters in which the Hague Conventions were judicially considered were reported to date. In one of those cases the Hague Convention 1996 was successfully applied (Neustadt v Neustadt (2013) MCC), whereas in the other Russia refused to fulfil its international obligations to return the children (McIlwrath v Grin (2013) SCC).

Leave to remove/applications to take a child out of the jurisdiction

20. What is the legal position on leave to remove/applications to take a child out of the jurisdiction? Under what circumstances can a parent apply to remove their child from the jurisdiction against the wishes of the other parent?

Under the provisions of Russian law, a second parent's consent to remove a child from Russia is generally not required. The most typical case, where a court deals with a relocation application, is when a primary carer intends to permanently leave the country but fails to secure the other parent's written consent for the relocation (which is typically required for visa purposes).

A court order to leave the country is also mandatory if the child's name has been placed on a border control watch list on the request of a parent (section 21, Federal Law on the Procedure for Exiting and Entering the Russian Federation 1996).

Courts are given wide discretion to decide whether to restrict or allow such leave in a given set of circumstances. There are no legal criteria to assist the court in exercising its discretion, apart from the general provisions on children's rights contained in national statutory law, such as the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Freedom of Movement Act 1993, and international treaties, such as the International Convention on the Rights of a Child. The courts face a problematic task when they have to try to accommodate the interests of the moving parent and main custodian on the one hand, and the interests of the parent remaining in Russia to maintain quality contact with their child, on the other. If the court is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the child to move, it will grant the permission to leave the country.


Surrogacy and adoption

Surrogacy agreements

21. What is the legal position on surrogacy agreements?

The Federal Act on Fundamentals of Protection of Public Health in the Russian Federation (Health Act) came into force on 1 January 2012. Together with the Family Code and subordinate acts it provided the legal basis for commercial surrogacy in Russia for the first time.

The Health Act defines surrogacy as carrying and giving birth to a child under the terms of a contract between the surrogate mother and potential parents, the donors of the egg and sperm for the embryo; or between a surrogate mother and a single woman, who is unable to carry and give birth to a child for health reasons (section 55 (9), Health Act).

A surrogate mother must be a woman between 25 and 35 years of age who:

  • Has given birth to at least one child of her own.

  • Has received a satisfactory medical report.

  • Has given written informed consent for the medical reproductive treatment.

A married woman can only become a surrogate mother with the written consent of her husband. She must not use her egg in the surrogacy arrangement (section 55(10), Health Act).

A married couple who consent to implant an embryo in another woman can be registered as the parents of the child only with the surrogate mother's consent (section 51, Family Code). Neither commissioning parents nor the surrogate mother can challenge the paternity or maternity of the child on the grounds of his or her birth being a result of a surrogacy arrangement (section 52(3), Family Code).

This form of assisted reproductive treatment has now been awarded an official status by the federal legislation, including commercial surrogacy.


22. What is the legal position in relation to adoption? Is adoption available to individuals and cohabiting couples (both heterosexual and same-sex)?

The adoption process is governed by:

  • Sections 124 to 165 of the Family Code.

  • Chapter 29 of the Civil Procedure Code.

  • The Federal Act on the State Database of Parentless Children 2001.

  • Other federal law.

A prospective parent can apply to a regional or federal operator of the Parentless Children Databank for information on children available for adoption. Applicants can obtain information about the child and his or her relatives and get an independent medical assessment of the child.

Adoption applications are generally heard by district courts. However, adoption by foreign nationals and Russian citizens permanently residing abroad are within the jurisdiction of the State Supreme Courts.

Applicants must be at least 16 years older than the child to be adopted. Adoption by unmarried or same-sex couples is prohibited (section 127, Family Code). Adoption can be refused if the applicant's parental rights were revoked in the past, or if they have a criminal conviction for certain premeditated crimes, and on other grounds prescribed by section 127 of the Family Code.

Adoption can also be denied for medical reasons, such as:

  • Tuberculosis.

  • Substance abuse.

  • Infectious diseases (until the applicant has recovered).

  • Certain types of mental disorders.

  • Other health disorders.

Child adoption applications are determined in closed hearings. The court must consider the child's opinion on the matter if the child is at least ten years of age. However, in certain situations, the court can also give weight to the views of younger children. The court grants an order for adoption if it finds this to be in the best interests of the child, and the candidates to be fit and financially secure to provide for the needs of the child. The adoptive parent can give the child a new name, and also change their birth information (section 134, Family Code). A Russian child that is adopted by foreign citizens will retain his or her Russian citizenship.




23. What legislation (if any) governs division of property for unmarried couples on the breakdown of the relationship?

Russian family law does not recognise any forms of cohabitation. This type of family union does not entail any legal consequences, irrespective of their length, the existence of children or any other circumstances.

Consequently, the separate legal regime applies to the property of an unmarried couple. In essence, the assets remain the sole individual property of the partner in whose name they are held, and the other partner does not acquire any property or equitable rights in those assets, and has no claim to the property under the provisions of family law.


Family dispute resolution

Mediation, collaborative law and arbitration

24. What non-court-based processes exist to resolve disputes? What is the current status of agreements reached through mediation, collaborative law and arbitration?

The recently adopted Federal Act on the Alternative Procedure of Dispute Resolution with the Participation of a Mediator (Mediation Act) came into force on 1 January 2011 and became the first act to govern non-court-based processes since the start of the Soviet era. The Act introduced mediation processes in family law and other areas of law traditionally associated with the use of mediation.

The principles of the mediation procedure are that it (section 3, Mediation Act):

  • Reflects the mutual will of the parties.

  • Is voluntary.

  • Is confidential.

  • Is co-operative.

  • Grants the parties equal rights.

  • Is impartial and the mediator is independent.

25. What is the statutory basis (if any), for mediation, collaborative law and arbitration?

There is no requirement to attempt a family dispute resolution before introducing judicial proceedings. However, the general rule is that when the parties enter into an agreement to use a mediation procedure, neither of the parties can initiate court proceedings in respect of the dispute for the duration of the period allocated for the mediation procedure (section 4, Mediation Act).

The parties can apply for the mediation procedure at any stage of court proceedings. Information concerning mediation is privileged, and cannot be sought from a mediator or the organisation that provided the mediation services, subject to certain exceptions set out in federal laws, and in cases where the parties have waived confidentiality (section (4), Mediation Act).

The mediation agreement can be further documented in a consent order by the relevant court, if the parties consider it appropriate (section 12, Mediation Act). The mediation agreement (without further court certification) has the force and effect of a contract, and any breach can be remedied by the means provided by contract law.


Civil partnership/same-sex marriage

26. What is the status of civil partnership/same-sex marriage? What legislation governs civil partnership/same-sex marriage?

Russian law does not provide for same-sex marriage or civil partnership. Marriage is traditionally understood and interpreted by courts as a union between a woman and a man. Therefore, de facto relationships, including same-sex couple relationships are not legally recognised.


Controversial areas and reform

27. What areas of the law (if any) are currently undergoing major change? Which areas of law are considered to be particularly controversial?

In recent years there has been rapid development in family and child protection law including:

  • Russia ratified the Hague Conventions on International Child Abduction 1980 and on Parental Responsibility and Protection of Children 1996.

  • The introduction of surrogacy and mediation laws in Russia.

  • Important amendments to the Family Code relating to child support and adoption.

In addition, no progress has taken place in regulating the legal status of unmarried couples, despite cohabitation becoming a mainstream family arrangement.

There have been recent developments in Russia's international politics that has led to some controversial changes. Legislators have seemingly tried to ban the recognition of all forms of same-sex relationships, regardless of the general international opposition to such a suggestion. As a result, in 2013, the Russian Parliament unanimously adopted a law criminalising any public presentation of homosexuality as normal or equal to heterosexuality that could conceivably be seen by minors. In addition, in 2013 and 2014, various legal acts prohibited adoptions to countries that permit same-sex marriage and to states imposing economic sanctions against Russia.

Family law has become increasingly politicised and conservative, and the long term effect of this remains to be seen.


Online resources

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Contributor profile

Catherine Heath (nee Kalaschnikova)

Divorce in Russia

T +7 499 6 776 667/ +44 08 1 444 727
F +7 495 6287839

Professional qualifications. LLM, Moscow State Law Academy, 1998; PhD, Moscow State Law Academy, 2001; Barrister (Russia), 2000; Juris Doctor, University of New South Wales, 2012; Solicitor (Australia), 2013

Areas of practice. Family (particularly international family law cases, complex property settlements, multi-jurisdictional pre-nuptial agreements and children's matters); civil; property; tax; inheritance.

Languages. English, Russian

Professional associations/memberships. International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; Moscow Bar of Arbitration Lawyers; Law Society of New South Wales.


  • Family Law Jurisdictional Comparisons 1st Edition, The European Lawyer, Thomson Reuters.

  • Family Law Jurisdictional Comparisons 2nd Edition, The European Lawyer, Thomson Reuters.

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