The case of Aneva and Others v. Bulgaria unites three cases and covers three different scenarios, lodged by four applicants. All of them involve parents deprived of contact with their children despite judgments giving them parental rights or some level of access.
Slaveyka Kicheva got custody of her son (born in 2005) after she split with the father of the child. But in September 2011, after a pre-arranged meeting, the father refused to return the child to his home.
After this point, Kicheva was able to see the child only a few times, and always in the presence of the father. In one of her attempts to see her child, Kicheva went to the home of her ex-husband, where he beat her in front of their child.
She contacted the state bailiff, who took charge of the case, but the father refused to attend the scheduled meetings regarding custody of the child or did not bring him with him.
In the two cases when the child was brought, it was visibly restless, unable to accept the mother and appeared threatened. According to the psychological assessment, the child was in a state of extreme parental alienation under the strong influence of its father, who repeatedly emphasized that his financial resources and stability that made him a better parent.
Child at risk, but state doesn't act
In September 2013, the psychological assessment of the child's situation concluded that the boy was experiencing a chronic emotional crisis and estrangement from his mother. Of the course of the following year, the father completely ceased to attend all meetings with Kicheva.
The expert report from 2014 states that the child was at risk and confirmed that the behavior of the father was deliberately aggressive and he constantly criticized and insulted the child's mother.
Although the final judgment did give parental rights to Kicheva, according to the prosecution, the father has not committed a crime by wrongfully retaining the child.
"The prosecution takes no action despite the clear provision of the Penal Code, according to which in the case of Kicheva the failure of the final judgment is criminalized, and despite the abundant evidence of criminal offense, it finds no cause to act. The powers of the social institutions are limited and they fail to compel the father to help," said attorney Adela Kachaunova of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, who represented Kicheva before the court in Strasbourg.
Strasbourg faults the state
The European Court of Human Rights stresses in its judgment that in cases like these, the rapid implementation is particularly important in the early stages of separation, when there is still a strong bond between the child and its parents.
The Court considers that the necessary proceedings must be conducted with particular diligence, and notes that the authorities have failed to effectively enforce adequate and timely measures in order to ensure the right of privacy and family life.