Father’s indifference to communicate with his child for 8 years, who developed a bond with his step father. Removal of parental responsibility. Non-violation of the right to respect for family life

JUDGMENT

Ilya Lyapin v. Russia 30.06.2020 (app. no.  70879/11)

see here

SUMMARY

Father indifference to a child for 8 years and absolutely no communication for 7 years. Respect for family life and removal of parental responsibility from the father.

The applicant father had not participated in his child’s life on his own initiative for 8 years and allowed the child to adjust to his mother’s new husband, whom he now considered his real father, and was later adopted by him.

According to the ECtHR, the applicant’s own deliberate inaction had led to the severance of ties between him and his unrecognized child. of the child’s needs, based on the information provided. They had thoroughly considered the relevant facts and duly taken into account the best interests of the child. The national courts had provided “relevant and sufficient” reasoning in their decisions, which were at their discretion.

The Court did not find a violation of the right to respect for family life (Article 8 of the ECHR).

PROVISION

Article 8

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The applicant, Ilya Viktorovich Lyapin, is a Russian national who was born in 1980 and lives in
Arkhangelsk.
The case concerned the withdrawal of the applicant’s parental authority over his son.
In May 2011 a district court deprived the applicant of his parental authority over his son, V., born in
2001. The court found that he had not lived with V. since April 2003, when he had divorced his
former wife, Ms A.K.; that he had not participated in his son’s upbringing since 2004; and that he
had only occasionally provided the boy with financial support.

The court went on to conclude that the family ties between the applicant and V. had been lost, and
that the boy perceived a third person, Mr M.K., his former wife’s new husband, as his father. In the
circumstances the court found that it was in V.’s best interests to deprive the applicant of his
parental authority over his son and leave the boy under the full custody of A.K.

The applicant appealed against the court decision, but in June 2011 the Arkhangelsk Regional Court
upheld the first-instance judgment. Attempts by the applicant to have the court decisions reviewed
in a supervisory review procedure were unsuccessful.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), the applicant complained of the
arbitrary removal of his parental authority over his son.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

Article 8

Depriving a person of parental responsibility was a particularly harsh measure that deprived a parent of their child’s family life and was incompatible with the goal of creating a bond between them. On the other hand, there must be family ties between children and parents who really care about them. According to the ECtHR, if a significant period of time had elapsed in which the child had lived with only one of his natural parents, the child’s interest in the de facto marital status not changing again could outweigh the parent’s interest in rehabilitating his family life with his child.

Although the child had spent the first two years of his life with the applicant, at the time the decision to remove parental responsibility was taken, he had not lived with the child for eight years and had no contact with him for seven of them. Throughout this period, the applicant had made no attempt to contact his son and resume contact with him. The Court did not find any of its explanations convincing.

The applicant had voluntarily and on his own initiative left the life of his child and left the child to adjust to his mother’s new husband. It was also not clear why this “adjustment” period had to last seven years. In the Court’s view, the applicant could and should have realized that such a long and complete removal from his son – partly decisive, given his young age at the time of the severance – could, as therefore, lead to a significant weakening, if not complete rupture, of the bond between them and the alienation of the child from him.

Indeed, during the domestic proceedings it was established that, although the applicant’s son was aware of the existence of his biological father, he did not remember him, nor did he wish to come into contact with him. When they met, the child did not recognize the applicant and felt frightened when he told him he was his father. In addition, in the hypothetical case where the child’s mother had objected to the child’s communication with the applicant, the Court was surprised to find that the applicant had never contacted the Child Care Services or the national courts.

In the present case, the applicant’s inaction had led to the severance of ties between him and his child. The removal of parental responsibility from him had done nothing but cancel the legal relationship between father and child. Given the absence of any personal relationship for a period of seven years prior to this decision, it could not be said to have adversely affected those relationships.

The decisions of the national courts clearly showed that the child was well integrated into his family and was deeply connected to his mother, his brother and his mother (his father)’s new husband, with whom he had developed a de facto family life for seven years. It was also important that his father had fully assumed the role of father and intended to adopt him and that the boy had expressed his desire to be adopted by him.

With this in mind, the national authorities have faced a difficult task of striking a fair balance between competing interests – those of the applicant, his son, the mother of the child and the de facto members of his family – in a complex case. In particular, they were asked to decide whether it was in the boy’s interest to reconnect with the applicant and his natural father, with whom he had been missing for the past seven years, or to strengthen the existing ties between the boy and the family in which he lived. during this period.

The domestic courts had ordered the applicant to pay a monthly alimony for his child, from the date of the decision until his son became an adult, despite the fact that he would no longer have parental responsibility for the child. This, however, did not mean that there were no relevant and sufficient reasons for the decision to remove parental responsibility. That decision did not alter the fact that the applicant was the natural father of the child. In addition, he had not paid maintenance for many years. In any case, the obligation to feed the child expired as soon as the boy was adopted by his father.

As regards the decision-making procedure, that decision was taken following a dispute in which the applicant had a procedural position which allowed him to put forward all the arguments in support of his allegations and to adduce evidence. In their rulings, the national courts had given extensive reasoning for their rulings and responded to his arguments. A number of witnesses were examined, including those who had supported his allegations, and a psychologist assessed the child’s relationship with his parents. The applicant had complained that the assessment in question had taken place in his absence and that the child had not been heard in court. However, there was no evidence that the applicant had ever sought to raise those questions before the national courts and to challenge the findings of the expert’s report or to have the child examined. Overall, the Court was satisfied with the fact that the domestic decision-making process was fair and provided the applicant with the necessary protection of his rights.

In conclusion, the domestic courts had carried out a detailed and carefully balanced assessment of the whole situation and needs of the child, based on the evidence provided. They had thoroughly considered the relevant facts and duly taken into account the interests of the child. The national courts had provided “relevant and sufficient” reasoning in their decisions, which were at their discretion.

The ECtHR therefore held that there was no violation of the right to respect for family life (Article 8).

 


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