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Divorce and Separation in Germany: Causes and Consequences

Endeavour of Explanation, Part 1 of 3

Presentation by Karin Jäckel, Dr. Phil.

Washington, D.C., June 7-9, 2001, at the
Parental Abduction Conference;
Organized by P.A.R.E.N.T. International, at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Part 1/3

(Back to Introduction)

I’m honoured and pleased to be here with you and talk about causes and consequences of divorce and separation in Germany.

The information that I base my speech on was collected during many years of intensive inquiries. Most of it got published in my books. The objective of my work is to tell about the realities of the experience of life, to find out explanations and to make you reflect on how to change and optimize things and circumstances.

Unfortunately there are no magic formulas.

Just a few details about me: I‘m married since 1971 and still happy with the same husband. Together we have three sons, who now are 25, 19 and 14 years old. And we live in a small town of not quite 20,000 inhabitants, in the midst of the black forest, in Oberkirch.

My eldest son is doing graduate studies as master of fine arts at the University of Music in Freiburg and Würzburg. He is an oboist and also plays the English horn.

My two younger sons still go to high school. The second will finish next year. My youngest son, Yannic, came with me to Washington, D.C. and is sitting in the audience to support me.

In 1975 I received my Ph.D. in Fine Arts and German Language, and some weeks later my eldest son was born. To raise my son by myself and not only to be the one who gave him life, I began free-lancing as a journalist and as a story- and book writer. Until now, 70 of my books for children, youth and adults were published. Some more will follow, I hope.

Some of my books are translated into other languages, even into Chinese, but unfortunately not into English. But never lose hope.

It seems to be my specialty to tackle ticklish problems, and so I caused — not for the first time — a loud echo in the media, and some foaming anger, when I published my books about the enormous problems of fathers after divorce or separation from their partners. With "The Secondhand Man" I had broken a taboo, somehow.

Immediately feminists called me a befouler of my own nest and a misogynist. On the other hand, happily married couples thought I was silly. But separated fathers and mothers, knowing what I’m writing and talking about, felt noticed and supported for the very first time.

It was similar with my book about the life of so-called "mere-housewives," who give up their job and an income of their own to be a devoted mother to their children and family and therefore are disdained by feminists as lazybones and morons. My rightful demands to have society accept the life-plans of each wife as being of equal worth instead of reducing her worth to that of the amount of self-earned money, and to respect the achievement of mothers who personally raise their children instead of paying for professional child-raising by strangers, - that all brought me a lot of angry calls and threatening letters by women who maintained that I was preaching a doctrine of "back into the kitchen," and that I had intentions to turn the female emancipation back into the middle ages.

At the same time, there was a huge wave of agreement by mothers, such as those "mere-housewives" and mothers with a job, who wrote to- or told me how gladly they would hang their job on a nail and rest with their children at home if they only had enough money to manage.

The inquiries then brought me to my book "Germany devours its children" and to writing about facts of the situation of families and children, in which you, ladies and gentlemen, are surely interested today.

I will try to offer some explanations, why each year about 160,000 children are stolen away from one of their parents and turned into orphans by divorce.

In addition, I will try to explain why it is possible that in each year at least 1000 children of separated or divorced bi-national parents are kidnapped by their mother or father to Germany, kept in Germany and finally lose their father or mother back home or are only allowed to meet them for a few hours each year.

I want to start with the explanation that Germany has a growing problem, that for a very long time only concerned the affected individuals but neither politicians nor the public, and that meanwhile grew to such massive proportions that is cannot be hidden anymore.

That problem is: there are too few children and too many broken homes in Germany. And each feeds on the other.

When it becomes normal that marriages are not everlasting, and where children are absent to the extent that they are not part of the life of nearly everyone, it is unavoidable that a rapidly increasing number of people is becoming unable to maintain long-lasting partnerships or to stay parents forever — and that even after separation and without the to-and-fro in the interest of children.

A new study let us know that German parents are much more concerned and fussy about their children than the parents of other nations are. The explanation offered is that Germans are perfectionists. Therefore they are scared to do things wrong with children and feel stressed by parenthood.

Although during the past few decades science found out more about childhood and children than ever before, it is without doubt possible that a growing crowd of individuals lost the instincts of parenthood and that natural need to have children, needs that, as a matter of course, shape the self-image of individuals and society alike.

Naturally, the falling number of children in Germany and the emotional and spiritual strangeness towards children are no accident.

Since 1972, the birth rate has been below those of the years of war 1917/1918 and 1944/45. Since 1972, the population in our country fell by about four million and is diminishing ever faster.

Unless there is a miracle, it is estimated that by the year 2050 the population will shrink by another 23 million people. Germany has about 81 million inhabitants. Within only 50 years there will be 58 million left.

In other words: without an annual huge run from foreign countries to Germany of 250,000 to 300,000 young, well-educated, powerful people, blessed with a large offspring of children, our nation will experience big problems that most of us cannot imagine yet.

But you shouldn't believe that Germans don’t want children on principle.

As inquiries show, nearly all of our young people dream of having their own family with two or more children and a happy partnership forever.

In fact, a quickly growing number of women (30 percent as of now) remains childless. A second group of women, equally large and growing equally fast, raises only one child. The greater portion of the remaining 40 percent will have two children, and a minuscule minority will have three or even more children.

But if you have three or more children, you will be considered to be almost as somehow anti-social or to be one of the VIPs with enough money to throw it out of the window.

What happened?

The most important reasons why such a lot of young people let their dreams of family and children of their own fly away are the very high costs and the time needed to raise a child, but most of all the fear of divorce and of the possible loss of children through a court decision.

Especially adults who went through the separation of their family of origin and a broken home by divorce are afraid of the risk of eventual breakdown of love-connections. And fathers or mothers who already suffered the loss of their children through divorce seldom save enough courage or money to try it again.

Last, but not least, since the discovery of the Anti-Baby-pill and the liberation from punishment as consequence of abortion — people have learned the comfortable way of life without children. They love to live more unconstrained, much more spontaneously and with more luxury. And they know, that without children they can do what they want and don’t have to put aside money to feed more hungry mouths.

It’ s a bundle of reasons why, but they all together bring it about that nowadays an average of 1.35 children is born by each woman during her fertile age in Germany.

To survive, to merely maintain its population numbers, a society needs a birth rate of an average of at least one child more.  (The figure for North America is 2.2 children. That's because of the somewhat longer life expectancies here.)

To compare:

Proportional to the population, in the USA 54 percent more children are born than in Germany.

The lack of children already now shows dramatic consequences in regard to old-age pension and other social security schemes.

The German scheme of old-age-pension is based on providing for the older generations through the labour of the younger ones. About 45 percent of the providers of old-age-pensions required in the future are not now being raised. The generation that is presently working is not willing to bring up the children who within a few years will be required to be the adults working and paying taxes.

There are 38 different sort of taxes plus a very high rate of social contributions. But the costs for welfare-services required to support a steadily increasing population sector of the elderly are exploding. The solution for the whole system will be simple to propose. To survive, we will need more children – many more.

But it is nearly too late to change minds, because there has been no other population sector during the past 50 years of politics that got neglected and exploited more than families. Several times the Constitutional Courts had to make decisions in the interest of families and children against the interest and usual behaviours of the government, so that federal Chancellor Schröder grumbled some weeks ago that the courts should decide matters of the law but let the government rule by politicians, not by judges.

A single example will illustrate and let you understand the differences between the life-situations of singles and families.

In this example a single and a family each earn identically $30,000 a year. After taxation and the deductions for social contributions plus the average of the cost of living, a single has about 850 dollars left per month for his or her own fun. A family with three children has 190 dollars left for them all, or 38 dollars per person per month.

If you know that the average income in Germany is much lower than $30,000 per year, so that people in fact get an average of only about $2000 a month, you easily can imagine why few and fewer people can’t or won’t afford children.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’ t want to make you think now that the kidnapping of binational children happens because Germany needs children, so that we want and must catch children wherever we can get them.

No, I simply want to show you that kidnapping of children and the discarding of one of the parents happens because, for an interval that lasted far too long already, German children and families have not been of the first order of priority in the minds of politicians or the law-givers, who are not strictly separated in the legislative and judiciary branches of government, so that the power to create new laws or to read entirely new and even very private meanings into existing laws is gradually moving into the hands of the judiciary. Of a judiciary whose representatives much too often are prejudiced and partial in the protection of women with respect to the union of mother and child and the withdrawing so-called "privileges" from men and fathers.

So, far too many people in Germany are too old or too selfish to want and to raise children. Far too many people forgot how to be with children. Far too many people forgot what children want and need or never had a chance to acquire the required skills, due to the shortage of social role models and examples. And so they came to be strangers with children, although the body of theoretical knowledge of science relating to children is bigger now than ever before.

How deeply the cut of this uncertainty with children hurts is shown by the steadily growing wish of parents for professional education grants, daycare or supervision and by the multitude of books providing disciplinary aid and advice on how to be a good mother or how to handle a fulfilled life with children.

In spite of this uncertainty and in spite of the fact that nobody, ever, explained what exactly it means, one of the most beloved terms in Germany is "the welfare of children".

Especially the law-giver with its family judges and the plethora of experts who are employed with advising the judges love that term and use it in the context of other terms, such as "violence against children" or "parental incompetence".

Although Roman Herzog once said that the one who will explain the "welfare of children" deserves the Nobel-Price, it is no joke but seriously important to define it.

Even if a definition is not absolutely complete, it will identify the most important parameters of what a child must have as a minimum, to guarantee its welfare. An obligatory list with the most important points of welfare would help judges to check by themselves the real life situation of children. Then it would not be as easily possible to conclude them at random or capriciously, as is it done so often today.

Pestalozzi, the founder of the modern system of public education of children that is being used today throughout much of the world, once said that he who wants to make a child happy must handle it with the "three huge Zs" namely >>Zeit, Zuwendung, Zärtlichkeit<< - in English: Time, Attention and Tenderness – and most of all, parents should do so.

Whoever has children knows that that advice is right. But do judges and experts know it, too?

To define the term "violence against children" is no less important, because finally it would show the dividing line between necessary compulsory measures of care and the beginning of violence.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine a young mother of two children, a boy of nine and a girl of seven years. The father loved her no longer and had — not for the first time — fallen in love with another woman. One evening he left his family to live with his new partner. But when his new love got rid of him, he wanted to return into his family. The mother refused to play along. Meanwhile she had sued for divorce and got the exclusive right to decide the circumstances of the children's upbringing, but she let them stay with their father whenever the three wanted to.

Eventually the father abducted the children. He called the mother and told her that he would bring them back, under the condition that they all would live together again.

The mother refused and laid charges against him because of child abduction. Some very hard months later, the family judge decided that the father must release the children back to their mother. The father didn't comply.

Until today, no lawyer, not the police, no bailiff, not even a group of private detectives were willing or able to enforce compliance with the decision of the family judge and to return the children back to their mother.

The reason why? It's a simple sentence, written by the judge in the last line of his conclusion, namely: "Violence against the children is not allowed."

But what in heavens does that mean?

The problem is, as the children explained it to the judge, that the father told them that he will commit suicide if they decide to leave him. Therefore the children want to be back with their mother, just as much as they don’t want him to die.

When the bailiff wants to take them home, they voluntarily decide that they don‘t want to come - and he gives up his mission, because he doesn‘t dare to touch the children in fear of being charged with breaching the court order. Neither the bailiff nor the police will allow the mother to lay hands on the children. She is not permitted to embrace them or take them by the hand with her. The only way to bring about the enforcement of the decision of the family judge is to make the children agree.

Two small children dominate the court. And all that because of the ill-considered, undefined term "violence against children" and of the fact that really everybody is truly allowed to make up his own mind on it, in accordance with what they happen to think is best.

As prone to the mercy of the legislative and executive forces as parents are in cases of so-called "parental incompetence," what must parents know and do or not do to be accepted as competent or to be rejected as incompetent? You will find no answer in any German code of law or in any dictionary.

Instead of following clear directions, the interpretation of, for example, the "welfare of children" in cases of custody, care and control is entirely up to judges and their advisers, from the youth welfare office and up to their psychological consultants and other experts.

In that fashion door and gateway is opened to private prejudices, preconceived ideas, small-mindedness, ill-considered opinions and provincial traditions. In consequence, three judges in different family courts will produce three different decisions in quite the same case regarding the welfare and custody of children.

Continued in Part 2…

Index to Karin Jaeckel's Web pages at Fathers for Life (English)

Posted June 2001
2007 12 23 (reformated)