Handcuffed to the playground?

The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe heard arguments on Wednesday on whether a father can be obliged to have contact with his illegitimate child. The means by which this is to be achieved was the subject of controversy before Germany's highest court. None of the parties to the proceedings questioned the legally stipulated duty of contact. The verdict of the Karlsruhe judges is expected in early 2008.

A father had filed a complaint against a decision of the Brandenburg Higher Regional Court (OLG), which had ordered him to leave the child's home under threat of a penalty payment of up to 25.000 euros to maintain contact with his son, who is now eight years old. He sees this as a violation of his personal rights, explained his lawyer Heike Hase.The man refuses contact with his illegitimate son on the grounds that he cannot build up an emotional relationship with the child he does not want. Furthermore, he feared that his own family with two minor children could be harmed, Hase said. He has acknowledged paternity and pays child support.

Zypries: Doubts about the correctness of the judgement Federal Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries (SPD) stated that in individual cases, the enforcement of a penalty payment must be possible. However, she expressed doubts as to whether the decision in the present case was correct. She considers it wrong that no guardian ad litem has been appointed. A court-appointed guardian ad litem represents the interests of the child.

Relationship through coercion? The association "Vateraufbruch fur Kinder" considers the setting of a penalty payment to be unobjectionable under constitutional law. If the coercive fine is lifted, parents could refuse their obligation to have contact without consequence, criticizes Professor Ulrich Mueller of the Federal Executive Board. Even contact enforced by a fine leads to a clarification of the relationship and is therefore in the child's interest.For Ulrike Peifer of the German Association for Public and Private Welfare, on the other hand, "building relationships under duress is hardly conceivable". Forced contact with the father is a dubious benefit for the child. Horst-Heiner Rotax of the German Family Court Conference said that the exercise of parental responsibility is not at their discretion. Rather, this responsibility is to be exercised to the "limit of one's own possibilities".

Talking instead of forcing Whether a visitation obligation serves the child well-being in the example of the present case, is however questionable, so Dr. Markus Warnke, Executive Director of the Federation of Catholic Families. Nevertheless, this duty to the child is enshrined in law. To lead the father "in handcuffs to the playground" could be neither for him nor for the child of interest. Warnke emphasizes that a solution should be sought through "mediating and guiding talks" and not through coercive decrees: "A coercive fine or subsequent police summoning of the father is not really in anyone's interest."In their 2004 decision, the Brandenburg judges had relied on Section 1684 of the Civil Code, which was reformed in 1998. According to the court, children have a right to contact with both parents. Likewise each parent is also entitled and also obligated to the contact with the child. In principle it is important that a child experiences both father and mother.

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