K.B. and Others v. Croatia: the Court’s first steps to tackle parental alienation

By Evelyn Merckx, teaching assistant and PhD researcher at Ghent University

Children’s position during their parents’ separation remains a delicate matter. A variety of reasons can result in a child refusing contact with a parent in response to the challenging situation. Objective reasons can lead to the child’s decision, such as a parent’s aggressive or indifferent behaviour. However, it can also be the result of a smear campaign of the other parent. In the past, the European Court of Human Rights avoided to impose harsh obligations on the State Party to prevent a child alienating a parent. To prevent having to answer the question whether contact is in the best interests of the child in a given case, the Court mainly focuses on the State Parties’ procedural and positive obligations to adopt certain measures to regulate the relations between private individuals through the establishment of an effective regulatory framework of adjudicatory and enforcement machinery (amongst others: ECtHR, Stasik v. Poland, 2015, § 80). Steady case law examines whether the State Party adopted all necessary, relevant and sufficient measures that can be reasonably expected to facilitate contact between parent and child (amongst others: ECtHR, Bostina v. Romania, 2016, § 57) . Furthermore, the Court solely examines the parent’s right to contact with his or her child and hereby refusing to examine the child’s right not to be manipulated. K.B. and others v. Croatia seems to deviate from past case law, providing for a welcome change but entailing some risks as well. Continue reading

Paradiso and Campanelli v. Italy: Lost in Recognition. Filiation of an Adopted Embryo born by Surrogate Woman in a Foreign Country

By Elena Ignovska, Assistant professor, University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Faculty of Law, Skopje, Macedonia.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) undoubtedly triggered an earthquake in the concept of parenthood, resulting in a fragmentation of the possible parents: genetic/biological, gestational, factual and legal. Their initial objective was to enable infertile couples to parent genetically related progeny. Yet, they have recently been used in ways that are detached from that initial purpose, which may be problematic from the viewpoint of national family law. A typical example of that is the case of Paradiso and Campanelli v. Italy which demonstrated the opposite intention: using foreign assistance in reproduction for purposes of parenting a non-gestational and genetically unrelated child. The issue before the Court concerned a removal of the child from his intended parents as a result of a (non)recognition of a foreign birth certificate. Continue reading

The Unbreakable Vow: Marital Captivity in Strasbourg

By Corina Heri, Visiting Scholar at Ghent University           

It has been the ECtHR’s constant case-law that Article 12 ECHR, while enshrining the right to marry an opposite-sex spouse, does not protect a right to divorce. The fact that the Court has resolutely held on to that idea despite the modern-day legalization of divorce in the Council of Europe Member States has been brought to the fore once again with the Fourth Section’s judgment in Babiarz v. Poland, issued on 10 January 2017. That case, brought under Articles 8 and 12 ECHR, concerned the applicant’s inability to obtain a divorce from his wife without her consent, as a result of which he could not marry the mother of his child. In short, Polish law gave higher priority to the legal fiction of an ongoing relationship between the spouses than to the de facto relationship between the applicant and his new partner, which had been ongoing for 11 years at the time of the Court’s judgment. The majority, in its judgment, found no violation of the ECHR. The present post will summarize the salient arguments made by the two dissenters, Judge Sajó and Judge Pinto de Albuquerque, and add some critiques of its own.

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Biao v. Denmark: Grand Chamber ruling on ethnic discrimination might leave couples seeking family reunification worse off

This guest post was written by Alix Schlüter, Ph.D. researcher at Bucerius Law School, Hamburg.

On May 24th 2016 the Grand Chamber found that the refusal to grant family reunion to a Ghanaian couple in Denmark violated Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 8 ECHR. Overruling the Chamber’s judgment of 2014, the Court held by a majority of twelve votes to five that Danish Laws on Family Reunification in part constituted indirect discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin. In the past, the Court for the most part has confined itself to finding violations of the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic origin merely in certain tightly circumscribed case groups, namely cases concerning school segregation of Roma children and racist violence cases. Against that background, the ruling in Biao must be seen as a big step – all the more as critics have proclaimed that the Court might not yet have developed a satisfactory approach to cases of indirect discrimination.[1] The implementation of the judgment by the Danish government, however, has to be awaited with some uneasy suspense. It might result in leaving Danish nationals of non-Danish ethnic origin seeking family reunification worse off.

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Silence as Acquiescence: On the Need to Address Disability Stereotyping in Kocherov and Sergeyeva v. Russia

By Corina Heri, PhD candidate at the University of Zürich / Visiting Scholar at Ghent University

In Kocherov and Sergeyeva v. Russia, a Chamber judgment issued on 29 March 2016, the ECtHR held that the restriction of a mentally disabled father’s parental authority had violated his rights under Article 8 ECHR (the right to respect for private and family life). In the past, the ECtHR has found violations of Article 8 ECHR where the domestic authorities failed to provide sufficient reasons for measures withdrawing parental care or contact rights from disabled parents (compare Olsson v. Sweden (No. 1), Kutzner v. Germany, and Saviny v. Ukraine). One of the most interesting aspects of the Kocherov and Sergeyeva case, however, concerns another provision, namely the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 ECHR. The complaint made in this regard concerned the fact that Mr. Kocherov was considered an unfit parent based on stereotyped assumptions about parents with mental disabilities, contrary to the evidence about his actual ability to care for a child. The fact that the majority did not find it necessary to examine this complaint represents a missed opportunity to confront stereotyping head-on.

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ECtHR condemns the punishment of women living in poverty and the ‘rescuing’ of their children

By Valeska David

The recently delivered ECtHR judgment in Soares de Melo v. Portugal (application No.72850/14) conveys a strong message on childrearing responsibilities and child protection: families living in poverty (mostly led by women) cannot be punished for their deprivation and their children should not be ‘rescued’ from them. Instead, and because children are not the exclusive responsibility of parents, states must fulfill their supportive role and provide material and other forms of assistance to make family life possible.

Following a summary of the facts and the findings of the Court, I will first briefly contextualize the importance of such a message within the Council of Europe (CoE). Subsequently, I will highlight some of the main contributions explicitly and implicitly made by the judgment. Finally, I will conclude by taking the opportunity to suggest that the way forward requires the Court to be more attentive to the discrimination and stereotypes often at play in these types of cases.

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European Court Buttresses Binational Same-Sex Couples’ Right to Family Reunification

This guest post was written by Zsolt Bobis, Program Coordinator with the Open Society Justice Initiative’s Equality and Inclusion Cluster @ZsoltBobis

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled in Pajić v. Croatia that Croatia’s former legal regime that had categorically denied same-sex couples the possibility of obtaining family reunification had violated human rights standards. The court sided with the applicant, a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who alleged she had faced discrimination on the basis of her sexual orientation during her application for a residence permit in Croatia.

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