It looks like another European country will soon move to give unmarried fathers at least a semblance of parental rights. This article tells us that Austria may soon follow Germany in giving single fathers some rights to their children (Vienna Times, 7/17/12). Although the article is unclear, it suggests that, at present, those Austrian fathers in fact have no rights whatsoever to their children. The Constitutional Court in Vienna has ruled that that total deprivation of rights based solely on sex cannot legally stand.
Back in 2010, a German court ruled that giving unmarried mothers complete power over the parental rights of the fathers of their children violated both German law and the treaties of the European Union. It took the German government over two years to come up with a highly unsatisfactory “solution” to the problem of placing fathers’ rights in mothers’ hands. That consisted of a recommendation to require single fathers to petition the court for their rights which could still be denied by the mother if she produces a good reason why the child should never see its dad. Just what those “good reasons” might consist of, no one yet seems to know, but I think we can all guess. Allegations of domestic violence and/or child abuse will surely become the default position of all mothers bent on denying a father to their child. It’s true in the English-speaking world, so why would it be different in Germany.
And I suspect something similar will transpire in Austria, but the realities of the new law that must be passed to comply with the terms of the Court’s ruling are currently speculative. Still, if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on some sort of system like the one under consideration in Germany. It places a fig leaf of fathers’ rights over what is an utterly pro-mother system of family law.
Meanwhile, the way the upcoming changes in Austria have been reported is worth noting. ”Custody Battles Set to Soar” is the headline in the Vienna Times article linked to and the same was how the Austrian Independent played the matter.
Judges presiding over family courts are expecting a flood of custody cases following a high court ruling…
But judges are worried it will lead to a flood of new cases, which current staffing levels simply will not be able to deal with.
Chairwoman of the body that represents family court judges, Doris Täubel-Weinreich, said: “We are worried this will lead to an explosion in the number of cases. If that is the case we will need many more staff.”
That’s right, even a slight change for the better in fathers’ rights is presented, not as a victory for children and fathers, not as a victory for fairness and justice, but as a problem for the courts and a burden on taxpayers who will pay for the “many more staff” to deal with the “explosion in the number of cases.” It’s true that the complete deprivation of rights of all unmarried fathers makes life easier on the judges. After all, what could be simpler than having no pesky dads asking to see their kids?
But emphasizing the increase in caseloads and court personnel to handle them overlooks the actual problem – children without fathers. You might think that, with the long-term crisis of fatherless kids that plagues every western country, the paper might recognize the Court’s ruling for what it is – a first, entirely inadequate but necessary step on the road to giving children what they so desperately need – two parents involved in their lives. But no, when fathers and children win, the victory has to be spun as a loss. It seems it can’t be any other way.
By the way, apparently there are currently some 750,000 Austrian fathers with no parental rights at all. That’s out of a total national population of about 8.2 million.