Can contact be forced?

I've often been asked over the years whether a parent can be forced to have contact with his/her child. My answer has always been 'no', but a recent German case gives pause for thought. I am extremely grateful to Victor Dewsbery who translated and provided me with the following report:

"In the case in question, the man is married and has two children with his wife. Several years ago he had an extramarital affair with a childhood girlfriend, and a child was conceived. After the inevitable crisis he managed to save his marriage, but any reminder of the relationship with his former girlfriend posed a threat to the stability of the marriage. The mother of the extramarital child tried to force him to have contact with their son, but he refused, arguing that this would jeopardise his marriage. There were even suspicions that the former girlfriend wanted to use the case to revive the relationship. The matter went to court, and the legal battle has now been going on for several years (the child is now nine).

The higher regional court in Brandenburg (itself an appeal court) ordered the father to see his child every three months on pain of a fine of 25,000 Euros, but the father appealed to the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe, claiming that the ruling would jeopardise his marriage and infringe on his personal rights. And his solicitor argued that if he had had any say in the care of the child from the outset, he would have given it for adoption.

In today's ruling, the constitutional court basically ruled in his favour, but not for the reasons he proposed. The argument of the court was based on what is good for the child. Under German law, the child has a right to have contact with both parents, but today's ruling stipulates that this normally stops short of the use of legal force - on the grounds that in many cases it would not be good for the child to have contact with an unwilling parent. So this father is not obliged to have contact with his child (under the German legal system, the constitutional court has referred the case back to the court in Brandenburg for a final ruling, but the constitutional court's ruling on this issue is binding)."

Interesting stuff. I certainly agree with the decision of the Constitutional Court, which seems similar to how an English court would view the matter.

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