Wagner and J.M.W.L. v. Luxembourg  | 2007

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

…the best interests of the child are paramount in such a case…

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, June 2007


J.M.W.L. was born in Peru in 1993. She was a baby when her biological mother died. J.M.W.L. was taken in by the rest of her family, but they ill-treated her. The child was eventually declared abandoned and put into an orphanage.

Jeanne Wagner is the mother of four children living in Luxembourg. When J.M.W.L was three years old, Jeanne decided to adopt her. Jeanne spent several weeks in Peru carrying out all the national legal requirements, working with an international agency. The Peruvian courts approved the adoption in November 1996.

J.M.W.L. and her new mother then travelled back to live in Luxembourg.

However, the Luxembourg courts refused to register the full adoption, saying that this was not available to a single woman under Luxembourg law at the time.

This left J.M.W.L. with her links to her Peruvian family cut, but without being replaced with full ties to her adoptive mother in Luxembourg. This created serious problems – in particular because J.M.W.L. was denied Luxembourg citizenship and could not enjoy the legal protection which would enable her to fully integrate with her adoptive family.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the child’s best interests had to take precedence in a case like this.

The decision by the Luxembourg courts had not taken account of the reality of the situation, which was that a child had been left in a legal vacuum after being unexpectedly denied a full adoption. In the circumstances, the decision had been discriminatory and the right to family life had been violated.


In December 2007 the Luxembourg courts recognised Jeanne Wagner’s full adoption of J.M.W.L.

The Luxembourg Court of Appeal then established a precedent for subsequent cases. It stated that a person would not be barred from fully adopting a child simply because they are single. 


Related examples

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

When she was four years old, Tabitha Mitunga was held by the Belgian authorities for almost two months – without family, friends, or anybody to look after her. She suffered psychological damage and the European 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

Woman wins landmark case for the rights of single mothers and their children

Paula Marckx was unmarried when she gave birth. She was shocked to find out that, because she was single, her baby girl would not be recognised as hers unless she went through a legal process. Even after this, her daughter would have a reduced legal status and would not inherit from her. The European court ruled this violated their rights – leading to a change in the law.

Read more

Reforms to protect family life after a father was separated from his daughter

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.

Read more