The Court first noted that unlike the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain an explicit provision regarding names. However, the Court found Article 8 to be applicable. It stated, "[a]s a means of personal identification and of linking to a family, a person's name none the less concerns his or her private and family life." The Court also noted that a change of surname could significantly affect Mr. Burghartz's career. The Court declined to examine whether there had been a breach of Article 8 alone.
The Court first noted that "the advancement of the equality of the sexes is today a major goal in the member States of the Council of Europe; this means that very weighty reasons would have to be put forward before a difference of treatment on the sole ground of sex could be regarded as compatible with the Convention." The Court rejected the State's purported justification of family unity for not permitting a husband to adopt his wife's surname. In making its determination, the Court indicated that, "the Convention must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions, especially the importance of the principle of non-discrimination." The Court concluded that the disparate treatment lacked an objective and reasonable justification, and thus constituted a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8.
The Court made an equitable assessment regarding the Applicants' claims for the costs of their legal representation before national courts, awarding them 20,000 Swiss francs.
Judge Thór Vilhjálmsson dissented, finding that the prejudice not severe enough to warrant international human rights protection, and that Article 8 was not applicable.
Judges Pettiti and Valitcos dissented, finding Article 8 inapplicable to the issue of family names. They found that names, like the issue of nationality, "must remain within the State's domain and does not come within the ambit of the Convention." They characterized the Court's decision in this case as extreme, as it was "not of major importance."
Judge Russo dissented in part, finding Article 8 applicable, but not finding a breach as the Government had permitted the couple to change their name informally.