Supreme Court of Germany decision XII ZB 463/13 (Bundesgerichtshof Beschluss XII ZB 463/13)
Federal Supreme Court, XII. Civil Appeals Division (Bundesgerichtshof, XII. Zivilsenat)
10 December 2014
Article 3: Best interests of the child
Other International Provisions:
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Article 8 (right to private and family life)
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 24 (rights of the child)
German Basic Law (Grundgesetz/GG): Article 1 para. 1 (human dignity), Article 2 para. 1 (right to free development of personality) and Article 6 para. 2 sentence 1 (marriage and the family; children born outside of marriage)
Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch/BGB): § 1591 (motherhood)
Act on the Procedure in Family Matters and in Matters of Non-contentious Jurisdiction (Gesetz über das Verfahren in Familiensachen und in den Angelegenheiten der freiwilligen Gerichtsbarkeit/FamFG): § 108 Abs. 1 (recognition of other foreign judgments) and § 109 Abs. 1 Nr. 4 (obstacles in the recognition of other foreign judgments)
A child of a homosexual couple was born to a surrogate mother in California using one of the men’s sperm. The child was registered in the United States as the child of the two men and a California court recognised the couple as the legal parents of the child. Upon returning to Germany, however, the authorities refused to register the child’s birth or the couple as the child’s parents. German law only recognises parenthood through adoption or ancestry, and provides that the surrogate mother is the legal mother of the child. The couple then filed a civil claim challenging the registry office’s decision to deny them joint parenthood of the child. The registry office’s decision was upheld by two lower courts. Consequently, the couple appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issue and resolution:
Surrogacy; whether two men are the legal parents of a child born through surrogacy abroad. The Supreme Court ordered the child’s birth to be registered and both petitioners to be registered as the child’s legal parents.
The Court held that a foreign court decision which legally determines kinship between a child and his or her parents, such as this decision by the California court recognising the couple as the legal parents of the child, can be fully recognised in Germany. Any consideration of whether a foreign court decision is contrary to German public policy (“orde public”) must take into account the human rights guaranteed by the ECHR. A foreign judgment assigning parenthood to a child’s intended parents – rather than to the surrogate mother as provided by German law – does not automatically constitute a breach of German public policy if at least one of the intended parents is genetically related to the child. This also applies where the foreign court decision awards parenthood to the registered civil partner of the genetic father of the child, as well as the genetic father himself.
The decision by the California court is not contradictory to German law (§ 109 FamFG) – especially not to the rights enshrined in the German Basic Law or Constitution. In addition, the California court rightly assumed its international jurisdiction to decide the case (§ 109 para. 1, no. 1 FamFG).
In terms of the rights of the child, the Court, amongst other things, relied on the child’s right to parental care and upbringing stemming from Art. 2 para. 1 and Art. 6 para. 2 sentence 1 GG. The child’s right would be infringed if a legal status already established by another court’s decision were to be abolished, which includes cases of surrogacy abroad. In this respect, the Court also relied on Article 3 of the CRC, stating that the child’s best interests must always be given preference in all decisions concerning the child.
The Court further elaborated that the child’s right to respect for his or her private and family life under Article 8 of the ECHR must always be taken into consideration in decisions determining parental status, citing the European Court of Human Rights’ decisions in Mennesson and Labassée. According to these decisions, the legal relationship between a child and his or her parents forms part of the child’s identity which would otherwise be undermined. Article 8 would also be infringed if the German authorities only recognised one of the two intended parents because every child has the right to a legal parent-child relationship with two parents.
According to the Court, the foreign court ruling that two same sex partners can be recognised as the child’s parents is not against the fundamental principles of German law as parenthood shared between two same sex partners can be equivalent to that of opposite sex parents if parenthood is legally recognised and established for the long term. As surrogacy in this case was carried out abroad legally, this case is distinguishable from illegal domestic surrogacy. In this situation the child must be recognised as a bearer of rights. The Court found similarities to cases of adoption as the surrogacy was carried out willingly by the surrogate mother and as she also gave away the child willingly to the intended parents.
The Court dismissed the lower courts’ reasoning that the right of the child to know his or her ancestry stands against any recognition of a foreign court’s decision as, according to German law, the right to know one’s ancestry is not guaranteed by the German local register of births, marriages and deaths.
Excerpts citing CRC and other relevant human rights instruments:
as in full-text German decision:
Rechte der Wunsch- oder Bestelleltern können sich aus Art. 2 Abs. 1 und Art. 6 Abs. 1 GG bzw. Art. 8 Abs. 1 EMRK ergeben. […]
Das Kindeswohl ist schließlich nach Art. 3 Abs. 1 der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention bei allen das Kind betreffenden Maßnahmen vorrangig zu berücksichtigen (ebenfalls nach Art. 24 Abs. 2 EU-Grundrechtecharta). […]
Nach der Rechtsprechung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte ist bei der Begründung des Elternstatus das Recht der Kinder auf Achtung ihres Privatlebens nach Art. 8 Abs. 1 EMRK zu berücksichtigen. […]
Aus dem Vorstehenden ergibt sich, dass für die Anerkennung in der vorliegenden Fallkonstellation entscheidend auf das Kindeswohl, mithin auf die Rechte des Kindes aus Art. 2 Abs. 1 i.V.m. Art. 6 Abs. 2 GG und aus Art. 8 Abs. 1 EMRK abzustellen ist, welche auch ein Recht des Kindes auf rechtliche Zuordnung zu beiden Eltern gewährleisten. […]
Wird dem Kind vor diesem Hintergrund im Inland die Zuordnung zum zweiten Wunschelternteil versagt, so liegt darin ein Eingriff in sein Recht aus Art. 8 Abs. 1 EMRK, eine rechtliche Eltern-Kind-Verbindung begründen zu können. […]
Im Gegensatz zu einer im Inland verbotener Weise durchgeführten Leihmutterschaft, für die das Gesetz dem Kind zwei vollwertige rechtliche Eltern zuordnen würde, erfüllt das hinkende Verwandtschaftsverhältnis zur Leihmutter, das in deren Heimatstaat nicht wirksam wird, die Anforderungen aus Art. 2 Abs. 1 i.V.m. Art. 6 Abs. 2 GG und aus Art. 8 Abs. 1 EMRK nicht. […]
Im Rahmen der zu beurteilenden Anerkennungsfähigkeit einer ausländischen Gerichtsentscheidung ist hingegen ohnedies nicht darüber zu entscheiden, ob die Anerkennung das Kindeswohl im Vergleich zur inländischen Rechtsordnung besser verwirklicht oder ob die Anerkennung durch das Recht auf Gewährleistung elterlicher Pflege und Erziehung aus Art. 2 Abs. 1 i.V.m. Art. 6 Abs. 2 Satz 1 GG und aufgrund Art. 8 Abs. 1 EMRK sogar geboten ist. […]
CRIN English translation:
The rights of the intended parents or the parents ordering a child can derive from Art. 2 para. 1 and Art. 6 para. 1 GG and Art. 8 para. 1 of the ECHR. […]
Finally, the child’s welfare is to be taken into account as a primary concern according to Art. 3 para. 1 of the CRC in all measures concerning the child (also according to Art. 24 para. 2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). […]
According to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, the right of children to recognition of their private life under Art. 8 para. 1 of the ECHR is to be taken into account when justifying parental status. […]
From the above it follows that the child’s welfare is crucial for the determination of the present case constellation and hence the rights of the child according to Art. 2 para. 1 i.V.m. Art. 6 para. 2 GG and Art. 8 para. 1 of the ECHR are to be applied which also guarantee the rights of the child to legal allocation to both parents. […]
Against this backdrop, it constitutes a violation of the child’s right stemming from Art. 8 para. 1 of the ECHR to be able to establish a legal child-parent connection if he or she is refused its second intended parent in domestic proceedings. […]
In contrast to surrogacy which is carried out illegally domestically which would assign two full legal parents to the child by law, the limping family relationship to the surrogate mother which is not effective in her home country does fulfill the requirements of Art. 2 para. 1 i.V.m. Art. 6 para. 2 GG and Art. 8 para. 1 ECHR. […]
It does not form part of the assessment of the eligibility of a foreign court decision whether the recognition of the child’s well-being is fulfilled better [in the foreign court decision] compared to the domestic legal system, or whether a positive eligibility decision [of a foreign court decision] might even be required to ensure the right to parental care and upbringing according to Art. 2 para. 1 in conjunction with Art. 6 para. 2 sentence 1 of the Basic Law and Art. 8 para. 1 of the ECHR. […]
This case has been considered ground-breaking for any future decisions in Germany on children born through surrogacy on the initiative of male homosexual couples. Further background information on this case is available at: http://www.dw.de/ limited-win-for-surrogacy-gay-parenthood-in-germany/a-18142883.
The decision by the German Supreme Court was preceded by decisions in June 2014 by the European Court of Human Rights in two similar surrogacy cases. See CRIN’s summaries of these cases: Mennesson v. France and Labasse v. France.
CRIN believes that this decision is consistent with the CRC. As recognised by the Court, the State has a duty under Article 3 of the CRC to give primary consideration to a child’s best interests, including when making decisions on parenthood. Furthermore, every child has the right to have his/her birth registered and to be cared for by his/her parents, as provided by Article 7.
BGH, Beschluss vom 10. Dezember 2014 – XII ZB 463/13
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.