(European Court of Human Rights, 11 June 2013)
The Hungarian mother and American father married and had a son together in the USA. When the child was 3 years old the mother and child visited relatives in Hungary but failed to return and initiated divorce proceedings there. The father initiated Hague Convention proceedings in Hungary seeking a return of the child to the USA.
The Hungarian Supreme Court found that the mother's retention of the child was illegal but failed to grant a return order. Interim contact provisions were made pending divorce proceedings. Following the divorce the father was granted contact for 4 days each month and a month-long summer vacation with the father each year in the USA. The court found it was in the child's best interests to maintain emotional links with the father but found no evidence to support the mother's contention that the father may retain the child in the USA.
The mother failed to make the child available for contact in the USA and left Budapest for an unknown location. The father brought enforcement proceedings over a period of 4 years and although the mother was fined for non-compliance, contact did not take place. The child was now refusing to have contact with the father in the USA in the belief that he would not return him and that he no longer considered him to be a part of his family.
The father applied to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that the Hungarian authorities failed to ensure the enforcement of decisions concerning contact with his child in breach of Art 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 and that in reliance of Art 6, the proceedings had lasted an unreasonably long time.
The Hungarian authorities had acted in breach of the father's Art 8 European Convention rights. The court considered that the substantial delay in enforcement proved decisive for the father's future relations with his son and had a particular quality of irreversibility. The financial sanctions imposed on the mother were inadequate to improve the situation. Notwithstanding the margin of appreciation afforded to the State, the national authorities did not take all the steps which could be reasonably required to enforce the father's access rights. The father was awarded damages of €22,500.