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Huge Rise in International Family Disputes

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

There has been a huge rise in the number of international family disputes overseen by UK courts in the last few years. The Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales (the “Office”) has just released its 2012 annual report which shows an increase of over 40 per cent compared to 2011.

The latest figures continue a marked trend in the numbers of international family disputes which have been brought to the attention of the Office since its inception in 2005.

Role of The Office of the Head of International Family Justice

The Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales intervenes in cases where family members live in different countries.

Often these cases involve child custody disputes, parental kidnapping, adoption and forced marriage. A number of Office case studies are set out in the 2012 report such as its assisting the safe return of children who were wrongfully removed by their mother to France where she had hid with them on a waterlogged caravan site.

The Office is headed up by Lord Justice Thorpe and has the broad remit of providing to the judiciary and other practitioners, in the UK and overseas, expertise and help for queries relating to international family law.

Its main role is to “support and facilitate cross-border judicial collaboration and direct judicial communication and to enhance the expertise necessary for handling the large numbers of cases relating to aspects of private international law”.

The Rapid Rise of International Family Disputes

The number of disputes in which the Office has intervened has literally mushroomed since 2005 when it first started handling cases. There were 3 cases in 2005, 6 in 2006, 27 in 2007, 65 in 2008, 116 in 2009, 92 in 2010, 180 in 2011 and 253 in 2012.

In 2012, most cases (over 50 per cent) were European with Poland, Germany, Spain and France making up the busiest jurisdictions.

What is Causing the Huge Rise in International Family Disputes?

Lord Justice Thorpe explained in the report the reasons for the rapid rise in the number cases it sees.

The first is the general increase in the number of international family cases coming before the courts where either an overseas judge or a UK judge needs the help of the Office.

The second is a growing international awareness amongst judges and legal practitioners of the existence of the Office and the services and benefits it can bring to such cases.

Lord Justice Thorpe also indicated his view on the underlying causes of the increase in numbers of international family disputes which included; "globalisation, increasing movement of persons across borders, and the ever rising number of family units which are truly international".

If you would like advice or information in relation to international or other family law issues please contact Melanie Bataillard-Samuel via e-mail MBataillard-Samuel@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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