Back

Fair custody rights for fathers of children born out of marriage

Sporer v. Austria  | 2011

Fair custody rights for fathers of children born out of marriage

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life...

Extract from Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Background

Mr Sporer had a son born out of marriage. When his relationship with the mother ended, he applied for custody of their child. However, under Austrian law, custody of a child born out of marriage was automatically given to the mother, with only a few exceptions. The mother was therefore given sole custody of the child.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court noted that, if the couple’s child had been born within a marriage, then the Austrian courts could have granted custody to Mr Sporer if this had been in the child’s best interests. However, because the child had been born outside of marriage, Mr Sporer could only obtain custody in exceptional circumstances. He had therefore been discriminated against without sufficient justification, compared to a father of a child born within a marriage. This had breached his basic rights.  

Follow-up

In 2013 the law was changed, so that courts can grant custody rights to the fathers of children born out of marriage, according to the child’s best interests. 

Additional information


Related examples

Reforms made following the inhuman treatment of a four-year-old girl

When she was four years old, Tabitha Mitunga was detained by the Belgian authorities for almost two months – without family, friends, or anybody assigned to look after her. She suffered psychological damage and the Strasbourg court ruled that her rights had been violated. Her case highlighted the need for better protections for unaccompanied children in Belgium and led to substantial reforms.

Read more

Justice for a victim of domestic violence in Romania

Bruised and beaten, Angelica Bălșan suffered eight assaults from her husband and sustained injuries that required up to ten days of medical care. She made many complaints to the authorities, but they took no proper steps to protect her. The European court held that Ms Bălșan had been inadequately protected against the abuse – leading to ongoing reforms to combat domestic violence in Romania.

Read more

Justice for thousands of “erased” people after 20 years without rights

In February 1992, 25,671 people in Slovenia were automatically stripped of their right to live there. Many people – including Ana Mezga - had their papers taken away, were evicted from their homes, could not work, lost personal possessions or had their families broken apart. The law was changed and a compensation scheme set up after a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

Read more

Reforms after children were taken away from their parents because they were poor

Emílie Wallová and Jaroslav Walla’s five children were taken away by the authorities, on the grounds that the parents did not have enough money to look after them. The Strasbourg court ruled that taking the children away in these circumstances had breached the parents’ right to family life. New legislation banned putting children in care just because of the financial situation of their parents.

Read more

Vulnerable child was denied a full adoption because her new mother was single

With the help of an international agency, Jeanne Wagner adopted a child from an orphanage in Peru. However, after they travelled back to Europe, the Luxembourg courts refused to recognise the full adoption because Jeanne was not married. The European court ruled that this was unfair and violated the right to family life. The adoption was recognised and the ban on single-parent adoption was ended.

Read more

A mother’s struggle to be with her children leads to better protection for 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.

Read more

Justice for elderly widow forced to change her name by the government

Tiborné Daróczy was 71 years old when the government made her change the name - even though she she had used it for fifty years. Mrs Daróczy saw her name as a strong link to her late husband. She did not want to be forced to change it. The European court ruled in her favour and the Hungarian authorities then allowed Mrs Daróczy to keep her old name.

Read more

Improved custody rights for fathers of children born out of marriage

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.

Read more

Justice for a mother who lost custody of her child

Verica Šobota-Gajić was given custody of her children after her relationship ended. However, her former husband took their son away. Due to the authorities’ inaction, Ms Šobota-Gajić only regained custody 6 years later. The case led to reforms to make sure the right people have custody of a child.

Read more

Reforms made after a child was unable to be legally recognised as her father’s daughter

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.

Read more

Case of a mother separated from her child

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.

Read more

Legal reforms after court-ordered child support was unpaid for thirteen years

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.

Read more

Child unable to discover identity of her father for 5 years – and reforms to protect children’s rights

A child was born outside of marriage. The mother asked the courts to establish who the father was. Due to legal delays and the father’s refusals to have a DNA test, the case lasted over 5 years. The Strasbourg court ruled that children’s rights were not properly protected. Laws were changed to help prevent the problem from happening again.

Read more

Reforms made to unreasonable government control of registered ethnicity

Mihai Ciubotaru is a writer and a professor. He wanted to have his ethnicity registered as Romanian. The authorities refused his request, despite his clear links with the Romanian ethnic group. The Strasbourg court ruled in Mr Ciubotaru’s favour, and later reforms gave people more control over their registered ethnicity.

Read more

Reforms to protect family life after father was unable to see his child

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.

Read more