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Father wins battle to see his son - and rights for all Czech parents

Zavřel v. Czech Republic  | 2007

Father wins battle to see his son - and rights for all Czech parents

… the inability of Mr Zavřel to exercise his visiting rights was ultimately the result of the tolerance shown by the courts to the resistance of the child’s mother, and the absence of any effective measures to make contact happen in practice.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, January 2007

Background

Vladimír Zavřel and his wife had a son. However, his wife left the family home in 2001, taking the six-year-old boy with her.

Soon she prevented Vladimir from seeing his son.

A court had ordered that it was in the child’s best interests to see his father, and that the two should have time together on a regular basis. Vladimir tried to get this court order enforced. However, the authorities failed to put it into effect. They did almost nothing to allow Vladimir to re-establish contact with his boy.

With no other options left, Vladimir took his case to the European Court of Human Rights. By this time, he had not seen his son for over two years.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

When the Czech courts had ordered that Vladimir should get to see his son, an expert assessment had found that his parenting skills were good. Meanwhile, it had found that the mother had a negative influence on the child and that she sought to turn him against his father.

It had therefore been clear that the prolonged separation of Vladimir and his boy would have negative consequences. Nevertheless, the Czech authorities had taken no properly effective steps to ensure that Vladimir would get to see his child. This had violated his right to family life.

Article 8 therefore includes the right of a parent to effective measures to reunite them with their child and the obligation of the national authorities to take the measures in practice.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, January 2007

Follow-up

Contact between Vladimir and his son was re-established after the judgment from the European court.

Following this and a number of similar cases, in 2008 the Czech laws on child custody proceedings were changed. The new measures included faster decision-making in court cases involving children and better mediation for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

There was also a complete reform of the laws on implementing court decisions about child custody. When parental visiting rights are not being enforced, Czech courts are now able to order out-of-court meetings, therapy, or a plan for establishing gradual contact with the help of an expert. If such measures are unsuccessful, the courts may also order forced reunion of children with their parents.

Following further cases before the European court on similar issues, additional reforms were made by the Czech authorities in 2012.