Paparrigopoulos v. Grecia, No. 61657/16 ECtHR (First Section), 30 June 2022
The European Court of Human Rights, in its judgment No. 61657/16 of 30 June 2022, in Paparrigopoulos v. Greece, ruled on a case concerning proceedings for the judicial establishment of the paternity of the applicant's daughter. The latter complained that domestic law had not given him the possibility to voluntarily acknowledge paternity and that this had resulted in the limitation of his parental responsibility towards his daughter.
The plaintiff had been sued by a woman, with whom he had had a relationship, to establish his paternity of the child. During the proceedings, the applicant had stated that he would acknowledge his paternity of the child before a notary public - i.e., without going to court - if the DNA test proved that he was the father. Despite the positive result of the paternity test, the woman refused voluntary acknowledgement and continued with the case. Under Greek law, parental responsibility for a minor child of unmarried parents belonged to the mother. If the child was recognized, the father acquired parental responsibility, but could only exercise it if there was an agreement between the parents or if the mother had ceased to exercise custody or could not exercise it for legal reasons. Moreover, if the father had opposed judicial recognition, the law if he could not exercise parental responsibility or replace the mother in exercising it unless the parents agreed. The court could decide otherwise, if the child's best interests so required, at the father's request, but only if the mother had ceased to exercise custody or was unable to exercise it for legal or practical reasons, or an agreement existed between the parents. The court could decide otherwise, if the child's best interests so required, at the father's request, but only if the mother had ceased to exercise custody or was unable to exercise it for legal or practical reasons, or an agreement existed between the parents.
For these reasons, the applicant, having exhausted domestic remedies, had appealed to the European Court claiming that he had not been given the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge his daughter's paternity and that this had the consequence of limiting his parental responsibility. He further argued that parental responsibility was only full when paternity was voluntarily acknowledged and that a judicial determination, which he opposed, would not allow him to exercise any parental responsibility unless both parents agreed.
The Court noted that at the material time national law would not have allowed the applicant to exercise parental responsibility, even if it would have been in the child's best interest. Moreover, it had not been possible for the applicant to obtain a court order to overcome the mother's refusal to agree to share parental responsibility, even though she had not denied the paternity of the child. According to the Court, the Government did not adequately explain why it was necessary at the material time for domestic law to prescribe such a difference in treatment between fathers and mothers of children born out of wedlock and children born in wedlock. It held, therefore, that there was no reasonable relationship of proportionality between the applicant's preclusion of the exercise of parental responsibility and the objective pursued, which was to protect the interests of children born out of wedlock, thus declaring a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8.
In another aspect, the Strasbourg Court raised how the Greek State's domestic proceedings violated Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life, because of the unjustified and unreasonable delay in taking a decision. The proceedings, which lasted nine years and four months, for three instances, caused prejudice to the applicant's private and family life.
(Comment by Alessandro Cupri)