ECHR Article 8-1
Respect for family life
Annulment of adoption order, 31 years after its issue and at the request of the adoptee’s sister: violation
Facts – The applicant was adopted at the age of 17. Her adoptive mother had another adopted daughter. Following the death of the mother, in 2003 the two sisters were jointly granted title to land which had previously been unlawfully expropriated from their family. Pursuant to an action brought by the applicant’s sister, in 2004 a county court declared the applicant’s adoption null and void. This decision was upheld on appeal in 2005.
Law – Article 8: The annulment of the adoption order, 31 years after it had been issued and 18 years after the death of her adoptive mother, amounted to an interference with the applicant’s right to respect for her family life. According to the law in force at the material time, after an adoptee obtained full legal capacity, only he or she could seek annulment of the adoption. However, the appeal court did not raise this objection during the proceedings. It was thus doubtful whether the measure applied by the authorities had been in accordance with the law. Moreover, the annulment of the applicant’s adoption did not serve the interests of either the adopted child or the adoptive mother. The main consequence of the annulment was the disruption of the applicant’s family tie with her already deceased mother and the loss of her inheritance rights to the benefit of her sister. Taking into account that the annulment proceedings had been brought by the latter in order to keep the inherited land for herself, it was doubtful whether the impugned decisions pursued a legitimate aim.
As to whether the measure had been necessary in a democratic society, the Court recalled that where the existence of a family tie had been established the State must in principle enable it to be maintained. Splitting up a family was an interference of a very serious order and had to be supported by sufficiently sound and weighty considerations, not only in the interests of the child but also with respect to legal certainty.
In the present case, the domestic courts had annulled the applicant’s adoption on the ground that its only aim had been the furtherance of the patrimonial interests of the adoptive mother and the applicant, not to ensure a better life for the applicant. However, the legal provisions governing adoption were primarily aimed at benefiting and protecting children. In this context, the annulment of an adoption was not envisaged as a measure against the adopted child and could not be interpreted in the sense of disinheriting an adopted child. Moreover, under the domestic law only the adopted child could challenge the validity of the adoption after obtaining full legal capacity. If subsequent evidence revealed that a final adoption order was based on fraudulent or misleading evidence, the interests of the child should remain paramount in establishing a process to deal with any damage caused to the adoptive parent as a result of the wrongful order. Therefore, the domestic courts’ decision had not been supported by relevant and sufficient reasons justifying such interference with the applicant’s family life.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
The Court also found, unanimously, a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
Article 41: EUR 30,000 in respect of both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage.
Human Rights, Adoption, Family
Updated: 29 December 2021; Ref: scu.546120