An unmarried German man has struck a blow for fatherhood, winning a landmark legal decision on his right to see his daughter. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Horst Zaunegger, whose former partner refused him access to their teenage daughter when the couple split up and she moved away.
Under current German law, unmarried fathers can be refused access by the mother. Zaunegger said: “For me this is clearly a violation of human rights because, as an unmarried father, I’m being treated as a second-class parent. There is no justification for that. I’m a responsible father, I’ve proved this but I have no access to joint custody.” Single German fathers must pay child support, but can make no decisions and can be prevented from seeing their children. Child custody is generally split between married couples. The law has been under increasing pressure, and in Berlin the justice minister called for a fundamental review of the rights of unmarried fathers. Figures from 2008 show that every third German child is born out of wedlock.