Impact of the European Convention on Human Rights – Family (Including Links to the Factsheets on the family case-law of the European Court of Human Rights)
Selected on relevance for non-resident parents by Peter Tromp from:
- The European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to respect for family life.
- This includes the rights of parents to have custody and contact with their children, and the rights of children to be with their parents.
- The European Court of Human Rights helps to protect families from being unlawfully separated – including protecting the rights of parents to recover abducted children.
Factsheets on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights:
- Children’s rights PDF (400 Ko)
- International child abductions PDF (300 Ko)
- Parental rights PDF (500 Ko)
- Protection of minors PDF (320 Ko)
- Unaccompanied migrant minors in detention PDF (190 Ko)
- Handbook on European law relating to the rights of the child PDF (2,326 Mo)
When Vladimír Zavřel’s wife left the family home, she took the couple’s six-year-old son and prevented Vladimir from seeing him. Vladimir got a court order for contact with his boy, but the authorities failed to enforce it. The European court ruled that this had violated the right to family life. Contact was re-established and the law was changed to prevent similar situations happening again.
When Teuvo Hokkanen’s wife died he temporarily allowed her parents to look after his daughter, Sini. The grandparents then refused to return Sini or to let Teuvo see her. The Finnish courts ordered regular meetings to take place between Teuvo and his daughter, but the authorities failed to enforce that order. The European court ruled that this had violated Teuvo’s right to family life.
M.D. lost custody of her two children after the authorities found that her former partner had been beating them and she had not protected them. M.D. then ended her relationship with the abusive partner and tried to get her children back. However, under Maltese law she had lost custody of the children forever, and she had no way to challenge this in the national courts.
Horst Zaunegger had a daughter and separated from the child’s mother. German law limited his chances to obtain joint custody, because he and the mother had never been married. After he won his case in Strasbourg, the law was changed to give fathers such as Mr Zaunegger more rights.
Under Austrian law, custody of a child born out of marriage was automatically given to the mother, with few exceptions. Meanwhile, custody of children born within marriage was decided according to the child’s best interests. At the Strasbourg court, Mr Sporer successfully argued that this was unfair – leading to a change in Austrian law.
Nessa Williams-Johnston could not be legally recognised as her father’s daughter, because her father had previously been married to someone other than Nessa’s mother. After the Strasbourg court ruled in the family’s favour, new legislation was passed to give children in Nessa’s position proper legal status.
When María Iglesias Gil had a son by her ex-husband, she was given custody of the child. However, her ex-husband took the child away to the United States. When Mrs Iglesias Gil went to the Spanish courts, they refused to issue an international arrest warrant and closed the case. The Strasbourg court ruled that this decision had breached Ms Iglesias Gil’s right to family life.
Snežana Boucke had a baby daughter out of marriage. The father was ordered to pay child support. The authorities failed to make sure the order was enforced, and the payments were not made for 13 years. The Strasbourg court ruled that this breached Ms Boucke’s right to have court rulings properly enforced. The case led to significant reforms to improve the enforcement of court orders.
Stefano Bianchi was given custody of his son when he separated from his wife. However, his wife took the child abroad and refused to return. When Mr Bianchi complained to the Swiss authorities, they failed to take action to reunite father and son. The Strasbourg court ruled that this breached Mr Bianchi’s right to family life. The relevant procedures were subsequently reformed.