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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