On 3 February 2016, the Belgium Constitutional Court ruled that the right to know who your biological father is, is more important than the prevailing age limit of 22 years to revoke a paternity. Steph, a Belgian donor conceived and President of Donorkinderen writes about the implications of the judgment on donor conceived persons in Belgium:
Delphine Boël was born on February 22nd 1968. She is the love child conceived during the alleged affair between her mother Baroness Sybille De Sleys Longschamps and former Belgian King Albert. It is claimed that their relationship lasted from 1966 to 1982.
At the moment of her birth, her mother was married to a nobleman named Jacques Boël. As legislation determines the names of the married couple were automatically put on her birth certificate. Delphine received his family name and is officially the only daughter of Jacques Boël. Her legal father has never revoked his paternity. The couple divorced back in 1987.
A number of years ago Delphine’s mother spoke candidly about the alleged affair in the TV documentary “Our daughter’s name is Delphine”. She talked about many things: about their first encounter, his visit on the maternity ward but also about the many times when he came over to spend time with her and Delphine. Their relationship ended abruptly. The Royal Palace rarely commented on this matter, but when they did they painted everything off as ‘gossip’.
However, during his annual Christmas speech in 1999 King Albert would, for the first time, vaguely admit to Delphine’s existence. He said: “Christmas offers each of us a good opportunity to reflect on our own family where we look back on the happy but also the difficult days. The Queen and I have remembered many happy times, but also the crisis that we as couple have endured, now thirty years ago. Together, we have managed to overcome these difficulties and for long we have regained a deep love and harmony. Recently we were reminded of this crisis period. We do not wish to talk about it. It belongs to our private life. However, should our life experience help or encourage others who recently experience similar difficulties, it would rejoice us.”
Over the years Delphine and her mother have been seeking official recognition that she is King Albert’s daughter, yet every attempt has failed so far.
Delphine is an artiste who studied at the Chelsea School of Art and Design. Currently she is living in London. Her artwork often refers to the denial she suffered by her biological father.
In 2013 Delphine went to the civil court to revoke Jacques Boël’s paternity. It is a first necessary step to be able and demand a paternity test of former King Albert in order to prove the kinship. By law Delphine Boël is too old for this to happen because this procedure has to be initiated before you turn 22 or within a year of learning that your parent is not your parent. The civil court passed the case to the Constitutional court.
On the 3rd of February 2016 the court has ruled on two important principles:
- The court ruled that the right to know who your biological father is, is more important than the 22 year age limit and that, consequently, Delphine Boël need not comply with the legal age limit.
- Possession of the state: to the outside world, Delphine Boël was always Jacques Boël’s daughter. According to this rule lineage cannot be disputed. The Constitutional court had to decide whether that rule is absolute.The court has ruled that this rule is NOT absolute and that knowing your true parentage is more important than existing family ties or the distress it will cause within other families.
On both principals the court ruled accordingly to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Delphine can now go ahead with her initial court case. Her legal father already did DNA-test that showed that he was not her biological father.
The ruling in this case can have huge implications not only for Delphine and her family, but it also urges for a total reformation of our current Family Law. At first it should allow all human beings to be granted recognition but also the possibility to know ones true biological ancestry regardless of the way it is conceived.
Secondly, in the verdict the non-biological connection causes a legal disconnection. This means that every child who has a non-biological parent on its birth certificate, can legally challenge this to obtain certainty about his or her biological identity.
The ruling can be also applied for donor conceived persons. For them the violation of their human rights occurs on three different levels. Not only does our government allow and facilitate third party reproductive treatments, it also deliberately denies donor-conceived offspring access and knowledge about their true ancestry. Our government even provides for their incomplete, and therefor incorrect, birth certificates. Basically this is fraud.
We want to urge our politicians to finally step up and take upon their responsibility by recognizing that there are a lot of inconsistencies in our current legislation. A new Family Law needs to be established in Belgium, in which the right of a child to know it’s biological identity is regarded as a fundamental principle. It is the only way to ensure legal certainty for all parties involved. If not great concern, distress and dramas will be inevitable. Parents themselves can also file lawsuits to contest the paternity. There are already lawsuits pending.
For those who think that Delphine started her lawsuit out of financial gain: that is not the case. She has got more to lose than to gain. No fortune is bigger than of Jacques Boël. By questioning his paternity she will lose her financial resources.
Delphine just wants to know where she comes from so she will finally know who she really is. She wishes no longer to be denied nor walk through life undefined. Every child originates from a biological mother and father. The recognition of ones origins should not depend on the (lack of) judgement of people who refuse to take their responsibility.
She aspires no fame, nor an iconic status. Since 2013 she has our complete support in her quest to be recognized by her biological father. Like no other we understand the pain that occurs when a fundamental question remains unanswered. It is suffering we share with illegitimate children, adoptees and foundlings. In a way you could say that we are all a bit Delphine.