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Cross-Border Family Law Dispute Increase ‘A Sign Of Changing Times’

Separating Couples Urged To Get Specialist Legal Advice


By Rob Dixon

New research from the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales has revealed that the number of cross-border family legal disputes referred to it has risen by almost 400 per cent in just four years.

The figures produced by the organisation, which offers advice to the legal sector in relation to international issues, said that the figure of 253 cases in 2012 marked an enormous increase from the 65 cases recorded in 2008.

More than half of the requests were related to jurisdictions in Europe, with 13 per cent being related to the Caribbean, North, Central and South America.

In the preface of the report, Lord Justice Thorpe stated that the significant rise could be linked to both a growing number of family law cases involving an international angle, as well as a growing awareness of the support that the office can provide.

Lord Justice Thorpe stressed the importance of approaching family law cases with “a trans-national mindset”, especially given “globalisation, increasing movement of persons across borders, and the ever rising number of family units which are truly international”.

He also highlighted the “additional emotional distress” that cases with international dimensions can involve. He concluded that it is “incumbent upon anyone who works in such a sensitive area to try and find ways of mitigating such stress”.

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Family Law team, which has specialist family lawyers across the country, provide legal advice in relation to all aspects of divorce and separation. The team also work with the firm’s teams in Spain on cases linked to that country and the UK, and has significant connections with other legal professionals on a worldwide basis due to its membership of the International Academy Of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Commenting on these statistics, John Nicholson, a Partner and family law expert based at the firm’s London office, said: “These figures reflect the modern phenomenon of people increasingly travelling and living abroad due to work and other responsibilities.

“The report has also highlighted a rise in cases related to inter-country residence disputes, as well as issues related to child abduction. We would always encourage separating couples to ensure the best interests of their children come first in any divorce or relationship breakdown. The impact that such events can have on young people simply cannot be overstated and it is always important that children are not caught in the crossfire of any disputes which may arise.”

John added: “It would be unsurprising if the figures reported by the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales continued to rise in the coming years, as globalisation continues as a trend and means more people are moving abroad.

“It will remain vitally important that those choosing to separate always seek specialist advice from legal experts, to get a full understanding of the implications that both UK law and legislation in other jurisdictions may have on their plans to divorce. This is why Irwin Mitchell has ensured it has the international links and expertise to provide the best possible support to its clients.

“Where the divorce takes place can make a huge difference to how key issues are resolved. Different countries may have very different laws to determine how finance and/or children issues are resolved.  Once the divorce process is started in a particular country, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to stop the process so that it can take place elsewhere. It is critical to seek advice as quickly as possible to ascertain what the options are.

“Assets located abroad or which may be transferred abroad also raise their own particular legal and commercial issues. In addition, while this report has highlighted child issues, we are seeing a continuing rise in international work generally including planning before marriage. For example, pre-nups and divorces.

“The world is getting smaller and the importance of getting the right legal advice when it is needed remains as fundamental as ever.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to International Family Law