The German Parliament will soon get to vote on a bill that would finally end single mothers’ complete monopoly of single fathers’ parental rights – barely. Read about it here (The Local, 7/4/12). As things stand now, if a single mother doesn’t want the father of her child to have any parental rights or access, she can easily prevent same. In order for him to have either rights or access, he must petition the court; if he does, the court sends the request to the mother for her approval. If she refuses, he’s out of luck. Period. She has complete veto power over his rights to his child and his child’s rights to him. In short, exactly as we find in every country I’ve ever written about, albeit more frankly in Germany than in some other places, fathers’ rights are in mother’s hands.
It’s been two years since a German Constitutional Court and the European Court for Human Rights ruled that Germany’s outrageous method of denying children any and all contact with their father at a mother’s whim violated, on the one hand the German Constitution and, on the other, basic human rights guaranteed by the country’s membership in the European Union. Why it took two years for the German Cabinet to put forward a bill to rectify the anti-father bias that’s been twice adjudicated to be illegal is anyone’s guess, but that’s what happened. And even now, it’s not like Germany is poised to enter the 21st century when it comes to equalizing fathers’ and mothers’ rights. Far from it.
[Justice Minister Sabine] Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s new proposal grants the unmarried mother automatic custody of her child, but allows the father the right to apply for joint custody at any time. This application is forwarded to the mother, and if she does not object, joint custody is to be granted with as little bureaucracy as possible.
If she does object, she must provide reasons why joint custody would put the child’s well-being at risk. These are then examined by a court, which has the power to deny the father custody if necessary.
If her reasons are not recognizably related to the child’s well-being, the mother’s objections can be rejected – this would include, for instance, that she only had a brief relationship with the father and does not want further contact.
So the father’s rights are still subject to the mother’s approval. Whether her objections will pass judicial muster doubtless will become a matter of routine as time goes by. Allegations of domestic violence or child abuse will likely get the dad tossed out of his child’s life for good unless they’re flagrantly false, whereas less serious claims may not suffice. But whatever the particulars, lawyers will figure out where the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable objections to paternal behavior lie. They will then instruct their clients accordingly.
But, assuming the Justice Minister’s bill passes, the salient feature of the legislation is that, once again, a father’s rights are subject not to his own behavior and not to the needs of his child, but to the approval and artful pleading of the mother and her lawyer.
And, once Mom has turned her imperial thumb down on the dad’s rights, what happens when Mom turns out to be abusive or neglectful herself. In this country and countless others, Dad will go to court to try to get custody or at least reduce her parenting time. Since he’s a father with rights, he can sometimes succeed. But once a German dad is told “nein” by his child’s mother, who is there to inform the court that the child is in danger? Not Dad.
Unsurprisingly, Madam Minister’s justification for her abysmally defective bill attempts to place the onus on fathers for the fatherlessness of German children.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who drew up the bill, said she hoped the new law would encourage “fathers to take responsibility for their child.”
To say that’s an odd take on current German law is to understate the matter considerably. Let’s see. As things stand now, any single mother, regardless of how neglectful or abusive, can at any time for any reason or no reason simply cancel from her child’s life, the finest, most loving father on the planet. And of course many mothers do exactly that. The law erects an insurmountable barrier, in the form of a mother’s whim, between a single father and his child. And when her ruling is “no,” he’s the one who’s irresponsible according to Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. The doublespeak doesn’t get much more blatant than that, but then such is the Orwellian world we enter when we pass through the doors marked ‘Family Court.’
The bottom line is that single German fathers will still be far behind much of the rest of the world even if this bill passes.