Vaterland? The new Berlin dads



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Germany Family Law Regressive

When I researched why I wasn't allowed to speak to my kids teachers or doctors I found that the overwhelming majority of Europeans live in countries where this would never be an issue. When I compare German family law with that where I come from (Seattle), Germany's laws are medieval. That until 10 months ago a father had no right to even petition the court for custody if his child was born out of wedlock is not understandable to 300 million Americans. That has NEVER been the case in the history of the US. This law only came to pass after the EU Court of Human Rights ruled the previous law as illegal after seeing that almost no country in Europe had such a law. The ones that did were the other German speaking countries and they changed their law much sooner after this ruling against Germany, then Germany did. Germany took 4 years to change their law after the EU said there law was illegal and 3 years after the German supreme court ruled their law unconsitutional.

Your compliments of the progressive German system are entirely based on how things might work when the parents both agree with each other. Since separation occurs roughly half the time, it is important what happens when that happens. In Germany, that means father's lose. A LOT.

One study concluded that 50% of fathers living apart from their children lose ALL contact with the child within 1 year of the separation. While that statistic is probably lower since that study was done, that Germany could have ever had such an abhorrent condition speaks volumes to a family culture that is so dominated by women that the constitution (Art 6 GG) says that mothers (and not fathers) get special protection despite the fact that the constitution (Art 3 GG) says that discrimination based on sex is illegal.

While its nice that cooperating parents can decide to let the father take off work for 12 months at 60% pay level (and this law only began in 2008), consider neighboring Sweden where fathers must take off from work BY LAW for a period and that in Sweden fathers do over 40% of all child rearing activities.

Jeff Winchell more than 2 years ago

Your comments about German laws

You're deluded, Jeff with such comments about the US being some kind of beacon of morality and justice in terms of children's custody or divorce. Typical "American exceptionalism" from you. I recommend you to watch the US documentary "Divorce Corp" ( so you can educate yourself a little about your own system rather than lecturing others in developed nations about their family laws.

Carlos more than 2 years ago


Interesting article, thanks! Am currently writing a piece about the role & situation of German dads myself.

Anna more than 3 years ago

Vaterland? Maybe... but not for the law.

I don't know if german system is equalitarian compare to others; I mean, i don't know if other sistems are better or not. I had a child here in Berlin, and I have no other experience out of that.

In case parents are not married the mother as the right of custody. Through a lot of ways, between legal and not, it is still possible that a mother make impossible to a father to see his child. At least for longs periods of time (before the father get a response from the court, for example).

Once in the law and burocracy system, fathers generally has to fight a hard to see their children again. Culturally the role of the mother is still too much powerfull and this is reflected in every burocracy chapter. Father's role is from the beginning reduced. This skip many men in disease. Children risk to loose fathers, or father who are not helped from the law.

Another thing is that in Berlin there's a lot of organization helping fathers to sort it out. The atmosphere is quite open minded. This is not happening in the rest of Germany.

Generally the reform pronounced in 2012 does not change much, because mostly the court apply to give right to both parents just in case of good relations between parents (witch is a no-sense). In case parents have bad realtions the court prefer to leaves the custody only to the mother. And father get to entry another time from the backdoor.

In other instance, the culture is istintively supporting mother's role. Isn't easy to see the opposite in a court.

To loose his rights a mother has to be quite terrible...on the opposite a good father maybe will never have it. This happen.

Because of personally experience, when I readed about „vaterland“ I smiled instinctly; or I get disturbed...

Parents has to learn to talk each others even if not having a partner relation anymore. This is interests of their child. The law and the burocracy isn't helping this process. This institutions are breakin' balance, reducing father's role from the beginning...

Yes; I can say, Berlin is a territory where people mentality try to understand other ways of family.....but the german law, and the all burocracy isn't really a „vaterland“...ther's different levels..

Sorry for my english.
Thanks for this article.


Deji more than 3 years ago

single dads' rights

'The Local' just wrote a piece about the new custody laws for single parents I discussed. Those interested can find it here:

Nele more than 3 years ago


Hi Kate Katharina,
Thanks for your comment! You're right of course that Germany's system is more progressive than many, but it's not perfect.
Up until recently a single mother had complete control over whether the father could see his child or not. Elterngeld remains adjusted to income and since generally speaking men in Germany still earn more and have more senior positions than women, it often isn't financially viable for fathers to take time off (plus employers don't always welcome it etc.).
So what appears to be a very liberal and egalitarian system on the surface actually still favours a traditional family model. The fathers I spoke to resented that and felt legislation had yet to catch up to their mindset . Hope that clarifies things a bit.

Nele more than 3 years ago

German Law

This was a really interesting article which I enjoyed reading. But one thing I don't understand is the question "When will Berlin legislation catch up?" Catch up with what? It seems that the system here is pretty progressive. Mothers and fathers can figure out between themselves how they want to juggle things. There's nothing in the law precluding men from taking time off. The piece mentioned attitudes in work, which is another issue entirely and has nothing t do with German law, which I think is pretty on top of gender equality! Nice piece though :)

ww.katekatharina,com more than 3 years ago

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