The number of cross-border family legal disputes referred to a UK judge has grown tenfold in a decade and more than doubled in the past two years, according to an organisation set up to facilitate transnational judicial collaboration.
The annual report of the Office of the Head of International Family Justice, published today, shows that the number of new cases handled by the office rose from 65 in 2008 to 253 in 2012.
The office describes itself as a ‘helpdesk’ to facilitate transnational collaboration over issues including child abduction, relocation, inter-country adoption and forced marriages.
It assists judges and lawyers at home and abroad who have seen their cases delayed because two countries’ legal systems are involved and when international conventions guaranteeing children’s rights are being flouted by overseas courts.
The head of international family justice for England and Wales, Lord Justice Thorpe and his supporting lawyer Edward Bennett, attribute the rise to the growing number of families where parents are of different nationalities and point to the growing number of children born in England and Wales to foreign parents.
In 2010 the largest share of its workload (127 cases) involved European countries, with the largest number involving Poland (14 cases) followed by Spain (12).
In a list of anonymised case studies the report cites a mother who had taken her children to France to prevent them from being taken into care, where they were found living on a waterlogged caravan site, due to close for the winter, and were not attending school.
In another case the office obtained the personal assurances of the Cypriot attorney general that a woman agreeing to return from Britain to Cyprus with her child would not be prosecuted by the Cypriot authorities.
Solicitor Jane Craig, head of family at private client firm Manches, said that her practice had seen a huge increase in the number of family disputes with an international dimension.
‘This can perhaps be attributed to the growing number of couples living overseas. When a foreign couple living in the UK split up and one of them wants to return to their country of origin with the children it can be extremely difficult, both legally and emotionally.
‘Or when a couple move abroad for work reasons and realise, when their relationship breaks down, that the legal system in the country where they are living is very different and applies different criteria for deciding disputes about children. Having a lawyer who is trained in international disputes is essential in these situations.’
Read the full report.