The court, based in Strasbourg, France, was ruling on a case in which successive German courts had denied the man the right to see his twin daughters, who were born after the man had a relationship with a married German woman.
It found that the decisions by the courts had breached the man's rights. Germany must now pay the man €5,000 for damages and a further €4,000 in legal costs. The ruling also establishes a precedent that unmarried fathers in Germany have a right to see their children even after a relationship breaks down.
While the father had not established a relationship with the girls, he had nevertheless shown a “serious interest” in them, the court decided.
The man, who had been living in the Baden-Württemberg city of Achern, took his case all the way through the German legal system to the Constitutional Court – the highest in the country – and was denied access to the children at each stage.
The daughters, now aged five, live with their mother and her husband, who is the legal father of the children. The couple, who have three other children together, have denied access to the biological father.
German courts had ruled that the biological father had accepted no responsibility for the twins and therefore had developed no “social-familial relationship” with them.
However, the Strasbourg court decided that the man had “shown a serious interest in the children” and expressed the wish to build a familial relationship with them. This had ultimately been blocked by the mother and legal father, the court found.
The Nigerian father's application for asylum was denied in 2006. In 2008 he moved to Spain.
Germany, Austria and Switzerland are generally considered to be conservative when it comes to granting unmarried fathers custody or access to their children after separation. However, the government is presently reviewing the laws on the issue.
The Constitutional Court ruled in August that a law denying unwed fathers custody rights to their children without the mother's permission is unconstitutional, which opened the way for automatic joint custody.