Surrogacy and mediation: The last week in family law

A High Court judge has likened a divorce dispute to a boxing match. Dealing with a heavily contested financial remedies claim involving former beauty queen Ekaterina Fields and her estranged lawyer husband Richard, Mr Justice Holman warned how awful divorce court fights were, and urged the couple to reach an agreed settlement. He suggested they think about what they each could have done with the million pounds that the dispute is costing in legal fees, and added: “You should not be going on like this. Frankly, it is very, very unedifying.”

A mother has failed to stop her baby son being taken from her and adopted, after a court ruled that she cannot be trusted to keep him away from his paedophile father. The boy, now aged nearly two, was removed from his mother last year to protect him from his father, who has a previous conviction for indecent assault on a nine year old boy and is awaiting trial on further sexual offences against the boy’s siblings. Her Honour Judge Newton directed the boy’s placement for adoption, saying that the risks inherent in returning this child to the care of his mother were very high indeed. If she was allowed to look after him, it was unlikely to be long before she went behind social workers’ backs and permitted the father to have contact with him, which would have the result of exposing the child to the risk of sexual abuse. The mother appealed to the Court of Appeal, but her appeal was dismissed.

A men-only divorce law firm has opened in London for fathers who feel let down by the family courts. The chief executive of Cordell & Cordell said: “Men are still unfairly represented in family courts in the UK. We recognised the need for this service back in 1990… Our goal is to bridge the gender gap that has been part of family law for too long now.” However, Susan Jacklin QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said it was not true that the family courts were biased against men. She stated: “The court’s focus is on the welfare of the child. There have been quite a few cases where fathers have not achieved contact for very sound reasons of child protection but they haven’t seen it that way.”

A group of divorced women who consider that they have suffered unfairly in the family courts have joined forces to help other women avoid their own plight and to change the system which they believe has let them down. Michelle Young, Vivien Hobbs and Janna Kremen have formed what they term ‘the First Wives Club’. The group is more formally called the ‘Michelle Young Foundation’. The stated mission of the Foundation is to highlight the injustice of non-disclosure laws which, it says, ‘allow the earning spouse in a divorce to make bald-face lies about their assets’.

The failure by parents to register the majority of children born through surrogacy agreements has created “a ticking legal time bomb”, according to a High Court judge. Addressing a conference on the rapid expansion in the number of surrogate births, Dame Lucy Theis said that without a court-sanctioned parental order and improved international legal frameworks children could end up “stateless and parentless”. Theis told the conference that her concern was about the people who were not making applications for parental orders. She said: “There’s a ticking legal time bomb that might arise later on through [the parents’] deaths, testamentary [inheritance] issues and through parents splitting up – or even simply if passports need to be renewed.” Unless the child’s status was registered, she added, it might not inherit from its new parents and would retain a claim on the estate of the birth mother, even if she was abroad.

And finally, Family lawyers’ association Resolution has carried out a survey which has found that only a small proportion of mediations result in a settlement. Compulsory Mediation Information Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) have been compulsory for family cases since April 2014. However, two-thirds of respondents to the survey said that less than a quarter of cases in which a MIAM had taken place proceeded to mediation. Further, more than half of respondents said that less than a quarter of the cases that proceeded to mediation after a MIAM resulted in a settlement.