Globalisation brings rapid rise in family law disputes

Family
Cross-border family legal disputes referred to the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales have quadrupled over the last four years.


Lord Justice Thorpe reported the increase in family cases needing assistance from an overseas judge, or vice versa, in his 2012 Annual Report of the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England & Wales published in May.

“The need for all involved in family law to integrate a trans-national mindset into their approach to resolving cases is self evident, especially given globalisation, increasing movement of persons across borders, and the ever rising number of family units which are truly international,” he stressed.

Since 2008, the number of cases referred to the Office has increased from 65 to 253. 2011 saw 180 cases, a 96% increase on 2010 referrals. 2012 was also a busy year, with 253 cases, a 40.5% increase in referrals from the previous year. The upward trend looks set to continue in 2013: at 24 April, the Office had already received 75 requests for assistance.

The number of jurisdictions involved in referrals also rose, to 71 in 2012, which represented a 40% rise from 2011. More cases concerned Europe than any other part of the world, with 127 requests, about 50% of the total number of cases referred. The majority of European requests involved Poland (14), Spain (12), France and Germany (10 each), Slovakia (9) and the Republic of Ireland (7).

“The rise that we have seen is, I think, primarily the result of the increasing mobility of people, economic migration, long-distance holidays, internet relationships which are quickly formed and quickly break down, and then there is a conflict between jurisdictions,” Thorpe LJ later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Another factor in the increase is the growing awareness of the service provided by the Office, which received just three cases in its first year. The Office was set up in 2005 as a centre of expertise in international family law, and has become an “integral tool” in facilitating cross-border judicial collaboration and assisting with the practical aspects of resolving a case “in the best interests of justice”.

The report revealed that outgoing requests vastly outweighed those coming from overseas judges, practitioners, and civil servants, and “encompassed the panoply of family law disputes”. Most were abduction or relocation cases, but adoption, matrimonial finance, forced marriage, validity of marriage also featured. Incoming requests centred on public and private law children cases, with a small rise at the end of 2012 in requests from overseas courts concerning the enforcement of maintenance.

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