Slovakia breached a father’s rights to family life, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
In Frisancho Perea v Slovakia, an American man had married a woman from the Slovak Republic in 1999. The couple set up home in Maryland in the United States and went on to have three children together. But in 2010, the marriage had run into difficulties. She moved out, taking the children with her, and the couple began marriage counselling. A shared parenting agreement, however, came to an abrupt end when the mother flew back to Slovakia with the children, telling her husband the following day that she had no intention of returning.
Shortly afterwards she filed for divorce in the Slovakian courts. In October that year the father launched proceedings for the return of the children under international treaty the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
A district court in Slovak capital Bratislava ordered the children’s return, on the basis that their ‘habitual residence’ (usual legal place of residence) was the United States and they had been wrongfully removed by the mother. An appeal against this ruling was unsuccessful.
The mother failed to comply with the order to return the child so the father began enforcement proceedings. However, these were suspended while the mother raised legal questions about the nature of the return order in a constitutional court. It ruled that her complaints were admissible and the case was therefore sent back to the district court for a further hearing. The father complained that he had not been given an opportunity to appear before the constitutional court, saying:
“As the Constitutional Court’s decisions had not been served on him and he had had no knowledge of those facts, he had been deprived of an opportunity to comment and to consider the taking of other legal steps.”
But his arguments were unsuccessful. A lengthy series of proceedings followed but no conclusive decision was reached. Eventually, in November last year, the District Court in Bratislava decided to terminate the proceedings because by that point the mother and children had moved to Hungary.
The father appealed this decision but also took his case at that point to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Slovakia had breached his rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which specifies the right to respect for a “private and family life”.
The Court accepted his claim, saying
“The eventual remittal of the present case to the ordinary courts resulted in yet more time being taken to deal with the case. As a result, for a protracted period of time the status of the children has not been determined by any court……a state of affairs which can by no means be said to have been in the children’s best interests.”
“The above considerations are sufficient for the Court to conclude that the respondent State has failed to secure to the applicant the right to respect for his family life by providing him with proceedings for the return of the children under the Hague Convention.”
The father was awarded €19,500 in damages (£13,725), plus any tax due, along with €7,500 (£5,280) in compensation for costs incurred.
The full judgement can be read here.