Surrogacy, relationship breakdown and modern families

AB v CD, EF, GH & IJ [2018] EWHC 1590 (Fam) is a first-of-its-kind case, in which I acted for the intended mother of  twins born in India in 2010. The Court had to grapple with legal status and identity of  parents and children when families created through surrogacy encounter serious domestic violence, relationship breakdown, divorce and restructure by remarriage in the absence of parental orders.

AB  v CD, EF, GH & IJ [2018] highlights how the needs of modern families founded through assisted conception and surrogacy outstrip existing law in the UK. Ultimately in this case, the Court was unable to fully resolve the legal status of the twins, their biological parents, the Indian surrogate and her husband or the children’s stepfather.

Instead, the Court had to make practical arrangements to secure the day-to-day upbringing of the children in the care of their biological mother and their stepfather; arrangements shaped by the special needs of one of the children and serious findings of domestic violence against their biological father.  The Court made the children wards of court and made child arrangements orders in favour of the biological mother and stepfather.  It also made no order for contact between the children and their biological father, dismissed his application for parental responsibility and restricted the exercise of parental responsibility by the surrogate and her husband.

In doing so, the Court recognized that those arrangements ‘fall very short of the transformative effect of a parental order’.

You can read more about the case here – http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed190618.

Louisa Ghevaert Honoured in The Lawyer Hot 100 List 2018

I am delighted to be included in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 List 2018 for my groundbreaking work in the field of fertility and family law.

The Lawyer states its Hot 100 2018 List ‘is not simply about who has done the most or the biggest deals…. It recognises management figures leading their firm with vision, team leaders who have sparked incredible growth … litigators on groundbreaking cases”. Individuals included in The Lawyer Hot 100 List ‘must have star quality’. Each year, The Lawyer receives many hundreds of nominations and it ‘gathers together the best lawyers in the UK – the most daring, innovative and creative’.

It is a privilege to receive this accolade and feature in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 List 2018 in recognition of my work in the legal and medical sectors. This includes my role in delivering groundbreaking expert evidence in complex medical negligence proceedings in the High Court in the case of XX v Whittington Hospital NHS Trust [2017] EWHC 2318 (QB).  This first of its kind judgment secured the first ever UK damages award for surrogacy and represents the cross-section of medical negligence and fertility law and practice in the UK.

My specialist practice transcends both the legal and medical sectors. I am a specialist contributor on surrogacy law in leading legal reference book The International Family Law Practice (Fifth Edition, December 2016-17). I am also co-author of medical reference book Reducing Risk in Fertility Treatment (First Edition, April 2015).

I remain committed to contributing to the future landscape of the law and legal services in the UK. This includes raising awareness and understanding of complex fertility, parenting and family law issues which underpin assisted conception and fertility treatment, modern families and complex medical negligence cases with a gynaecological and fertility dimension.

The Lawyer’s Hot 100 List lists specific practice areas, which identify the most outstanding lawyers in their fields. To read more click here.

Fertility and Family Law in Action

The last 12 months has been a busy year on the fertility law front. Fertility law and practice and its association with family law has continued to evolve, both nationally and internationally.

We’ve seen evolution of policy and practice around the importance of giving informed consent to fertility treatment at UK fertility clinics licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Informed consent to fertility treatment is one of the most important principles of healthcare.  It is designed to protect fertility patients, children and others involved in fertility treatment and more needs to be done to improve understanding of the legal issues and implications of assisted conception and management of this in practice.  In September 2015, the English High Court highlighted the very real difficulties that arise when informed consent to fertility treatment falls short, which left eight couples embroiled in legal parenthood proceedings following fertility treatment and the birth of their children and highlighted a further 75 similar cases.

We’ve also seen continued debate about surrogacy law and practice. My work as a member of the Surrogacy UK Working Group on Surrogacy Law Reform and the publication of its report Myth Busting and Reform in November 2015 sheds valuable light on the current practice of surrogacy in the UK and sets out recommendations for reform.

UK industry recognition for fertility and family law is to be welcomed. I was delighted to be awarded recognition by Chambers & Partners UK 2016. This helps raise awareness and promote the importance of fertility law in the UK.  Assisted conception can raise many complex legal and practical issues in the context of increasingly challenging family building expectations and demands of modern day living.  Assisted conception can be daunting and fertility law is not always ‘a good fit’ in practice. The provision of skilled fertility law advice helps place children born through assisted conception and their families on a secure legal footing and provides valuable support and protection if problems arise.

Fertility, parenting and family law issues have continued to feature in the media. Over the last 12 months I have contributed to public debate and provided legal commentary on BBC World Service radio and BBC Radio London, as well as in the Independent, the Guardian, the Times and legal and fertility sector press. I have also lectured on fertility, parenting and family law issues in the UK and delivered a lecture overseas in Chicago, USA, at the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys Fall Conference 2015.

BBC Radio London Interview: Solo Father Through Surrogacy Awarded Adoption Order

I was delighted to be interviewed on BBC London 94.9 ‘Have Your Say’ programme with Vanessa Feltz this morning following the English High Court’s landmark decision to grant a solo father through surrogacy an adoption order. The English High Court described the case as ‘highly unusual’ and the law as a ‘legal minefield’.

The single man became a solo father through surrogacy after his mother carried a surrogate pregnancy for him.  He conceived the baby (with his own sperm and a donor egg), now 8 months old, with the full support of his mother and father and following fertility treatment at a UK licensed fertility clinic. The solo father’s mother stepped in and carried the baby when he was unable to proceed with another female relative due to medical complications.

Under UK fertility law, the solo father’s mother and her husband were the baby’s legal parents at birth and were named as such on his initial British birth certificate.  This meant that the baby and his intended solo father were treated as having the same legal parents and regarded as legal brothers. It was not illegal under UK law for the solo father to enter into a surrogacy arrangement and conceive a child through surrogacy.  However, he was not eligible for a parental order (the legal solution for surrogacy in the UK which reassigns legal parenthood to intended parents) due to public policy restrictions which prevent single people from accessing the parental order regime.  Only couples are eligible to apply for a parental order. As a result, the solo father applied to the English Court for an adoption order to be legally recognised as his baby’s legal father.

In the first legal case of its kind, the English High Court ruled that it was in the baby’s best interests for an adoption order to be awarded in his solo father’s favour.  The case was supported by social services and followed careful consideration of child welfare issues, counselling and ethics assessment and approval at the UK licensed fertility clinic where treatment took place.  The case involved complex legal issues and required very careful navigation because of a range of complex legal restrictions and offences set out in our domestic adoption and children law. The English Court ruled that it would not break the law to award the solo father an adoption order because he and his baby were ‘relatives’ in law.

In the fact specific circumstances of this case, the solo father successfully obtained an adoption order in respect of his baby.  However,  this case highlights the very real legal difficulties faced by single people who are ineligible to apply for a parental order, particularly those who do not have a relative willing to carry a surrogate pregnancy for them. English law also remains a minefield for those undertaking surrogacy abroad.

With increasing numbers of people turning to surrogacy as a family building option of choice, there has never been a greater need to get to grips with the relevant issues and improve awareness.  Surrogacy can raise a whole host of tricky issues associated with developments in assisted reproductive technology, donor conception and inter-generational family building.  Surrogacy becomes even more complicated when people’s family building plans do not fit neatly into the confines of UK fertility law. Family life in the UK and family building expectations are evolving rapidly. There are inherent tensions and conflicts between the positions of intended parents, surrogates, donors and surrogate born children which create a complex legal picture.  Assisted reproduction is here to stay, but there is still much to be done to improve understanding and protect and support adults, children and families alike.

To listen to the whole interview click here.

Louisa Ghevaert recognised as leading expert in UK fertility and parenting law

I’m delighted to be ranked by Chambers and Partners UK Guide 2015 as a leading legal expert in surrogacy, fertility and parenting law.

Chambers & Partners identifies and ranks the most outstanding law firms and lawyers in the UK and in over 180 jurisdictions throughout the world. Their Guides are trusted by clients across the globe when they need to find a reliable and capable legal expert. Chambers UK Guide covers 50 cities and counties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and its rankings are the result of in-depth discussions and interviews with both lawyers and clients.

Chambers and Partners UK 2015: says about Louisa Ghevaert

“Louisa Ghevaert is a recognised expert in surrogacy, fertility and parenting law matters.  She has experience in dealing with complex parenting matters, particularly those with an international element”.

This follows on from my ranking in Chambers and Partners UK 2014 edition which said “sources describe her as an expert in a very difficult and specialised area of the law – she knows her subject extremely well and gives knowledgeable and sensible advice”.

 

Elizabeth Banks welcomes second surrogate son

Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Banks, 38, has hit the headlines again this week following the announcement of the birth of her second surrogate born son.

Baby Magnus joined older surrogate born brother Felix, aged 20 months, at her home earlier this week.  Elizabeth said “As 2012 winds down and Thanksgiving approaches, I have much for which to be thankful – personal, professional and Presidential.  However, nothing can match the joy and excitement my husband and I felt when we recently welcomed our second baby boy, Magnus Mitchell Handelman.  Like Felix, Magnus was born via a gestational surrogate. This experience has exceeded all expectations, taught us a great deal about generosity and gratitude, and established a relationship that will last a lifetime.”

Elizabeth captured the hearts of many following her honest account of her own battle with infertility and her and her husband’s decision to turn to surrogacy for the birth of their first son, Felix.  Elizabeth quickly became a role model for those looking to build families of their own through surrogacy with her sensitive approach to infertility and her decision to speak so openly and honestly about her own journey to parenthood through surrogacy.

Earlier this week, Elizabeth went on to say “I am also so very thankful to our family and friends for their support throughout this process, as well as the Center for Surrogate Parenting for helping make all this possible.  I now turn my attention to managing two boys under two. For which I am thankful.  And all their poop. For which I am less thankful. Wish me luck”.

Celebrity endorsement of surrogacy by people like Elizabeth continues to help raise the profile of surrogacy.  Elizabeth has publicly given an honest and positive experience of the process and the joy it has brought to her and those around her.  Her story helps to give hope to others battling infertility and shows that surrogacy can deliver the life-changing gift of a child.

Fertility and Parenting law team shortlisted for The Law Society’s 2012 Excellence Award in Innovation

I am delighted that my team and  have been shortlisted for the Law Society’s 2012 Excellence Award in Innovation.

This recognizes our cutting-edge, pioneering and innovative legal work helping people all over the world build families through fertility treatment, international and UK surrogacy, donor conception including known donation and co-parenting, as well as our work concerning family, children and parenting disputes.

The Law Society’s prestigious awards ceremony recognizes excellence across the legal profession and outstanding contributions from solicitors and their teams.  Winners will be announced at a black tie event on 18 October at Old Billingsgate, London.

 

The legacy of Jill Hawkins, the UK’s most prolific surrogate mother

Jill Hawkins announced this week that she plans to retire from her role as a surrogate mother in the UK.   Jill, a 48 year old legal secretary from Sussex, has given birth to ten surrogate babies and given unimaginable joy to the childless couples she has helped over the last twenty years.

Jill’s legacy puts surrogacy in the spotlight again, at a time when there has never been greater debate about the the practice of surrogacy around the world.  There continues to be strong demand for surrogacy and Jill’s commitment and dedication, as the UK’s most prolific surrogate mother, gives real and meaningful insight into the practice.  Her views stand as clear affirmation of the positive benefits surrogacy can bring to both surrogate mothers and childless couples alike and her views paint an altogether different picture from much of the recent negative coverage, particularly of Indian surrogacy which has once again raised concerns about exploitation, ‘baby buying’ and organized  ‘baby farms’.

In an interview with The Telegraph this week, Jill said “I love doing this.  I meet amazing couples who are heartbroken and I want to make them happy.  It will be hard to walk away”.  Interestingly, she says of foreign commercial surrogacy “I can understand why most women in this county might find the idea of an organized baby farm abhorrent.  But I don’t have a problem with it.  These women are host surrogates, they aren’t using their own eggs.  I know from personal experience that it’s perfectly possible to detach yourself and not feel as though it’s your baby”.

She said of her own motivations, “It’s hard for someone who really longs for a baby to understand that I don’t, but this whole journey began because I personally wanted to experience pregnancy, not be a mother”.  She also tellingly and poignantly said “People talk about the gift of life, but surrogacy has saved mine so many times. It has given me purpose, a vocation that brings happiness.  I become part of a couple’s life and, if I’m honest, it’s been a way of distancing myself from my own life, my own problems. The newspapers called me a baby factory and said I got depressed because I gave up my babies.  But they weren’t mine – having them was the best thing I’ve ever done”.

As a lawyer who practices in the field of fertility, parenting and surrogacy law, I often get asked about the reasons why a woman would want to offer herself as a surrogate mother and carry a pregnancy for someone else.  Many intended parents worry that a surrogate mother will change her mind and want to keep the baby and the fact that surrogacy agreements are not enforceable in law in the UK as a matter of public policy.  Those battling infertility are often understandably concerned that their longed for and much-wanted baby might not end up in their care and that they might somehow be held to ransom by a surrogate mother, with little or no legal rights of their own.  Jill’s legacy and views stand as testament that many surrogate mothers want to help someone else achieve their dream of parenthood, and that they are motivated by a personal enjoyment of pregnancy and a strong sense of altruism.

I met Jill in person, when we were both interviewed on BBC Breakfast TV in January 2011.  Jill was forthright, upfront and eloquent about her experience and role as a surrogate mother in the UK.  She was proud of her contribution and legacy and her passion and dedication as a surrogate mother was palpable.  Jill’s experience shows that surrogacy is not a one-way street that favours intended parents and exploits surrogate mothers. Jill’s experience shows that surrogacy is a complex, rewarding and deeply personal experience that creates a life-changing legacy in the form of a baby.  It brings joy, a much wanted-baby and a sense or purpose.  It also gives childless couples the opportunity to have a genetic child of their own.

That said, surrogacy can raise complex legal issues and problems, particularly in cases of foreign surrogacy and on occasions when domestic surrogacy agreements  breakdown.  English law dictates that the surrogate mother is always the child’s legal mother at birth and her consent and co-operation is required for intended parents to obtain full legal parental status for the child by way of a parental order.  A surrogate mother is therefore at the heart of the process in every sense.

Ukrainian surrogacy law dispute: TV coverage places Ukrainian surrogacy under the spotlight

Ukrainian surrogacy has recently been placed in the spotlight following rare in-depth TV coverage of what’s reported to be Ukraine’s first ever surrogacy dispute.  The TV programme ‘Podrobnosti’, filmed by Ukrainian TV Channel (Inter TV), covers the story of Ukrainian surrogate mother Irina Morozova who gave birth to twin boys  following a surrogacy arrangement with Italian intended parents and who is now embroiled in a legal dispute to retain care of them.

I was delighted to be interviewed for the TV programme as an expert in UK surrogacy law, alongside leading Ukrainian professionals and experts including an official from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and Vitoriya Rogatinskaya the director of the international surrogacy organization ‘The Supportive Motherhood’ and Jill Hawkins (the UK’s most well known surrogate mother).

The TV programme provides a rare glimpse of the surrogacy sector in the Ukraine and a direct interview with the Ukrainian surrogate mother Irina Morozova.  Irina has been battling legally to retain care of the twins she gave birth to for the last year and a half .  She seriously doubts the intentions of the Italian intended parents who commissioned the twins’ birth.  Shockingly, she is worried that if she were to hand over the twins they would be sold for organ donation.

The programme reports that there is a growing surrogacy market in the Ukraine and that around 150 surrogate babies are born in the Ukraine to foreign intended parents each year. There is no international harmonization of surrogacy law and this can create all sorts of complex legal issues for intended parents, who can experience immigration problems bringing their child home after the birth and an often challenging legal process to obtain full parental status for their child.  Irina’s story graphically demonstrates that surrogacy is not risk free and that surrogacy law disputes can arise, bringing further challenges for all those involved in the process.

Indian surrogacy: draft law finalised to bring in regulation

For the first time, The Indian Government has finalised draft legislation to regulate the rapidly expanding Indian surrogacy sector.  At present, there are no surrogacy laws in India and surrogacy is neither legal nor illegal.  It is understood that the Indian Government is moving quickly to introduce legal regulation and The Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation (ART) Bill is due to come before the Winter Session of the Indian Government.

There are currently believed to be around one thousand fertility clinics in India, although the actual number is unclear as there is no official supervisory body.  It is estimated that there were approximately two thousand surrogate births in India last year, with around half of these believed to have been born to British intended parents.  Indian authorities now believe the Indian surrogacy sector is worth as much as £1.5 billion each year and that it continues to grow rapidly and needs regulation.

The Bill seeks to ban foreign intended parents from entering into a surrogacy arrangement in India if surrogacy in prohibited in their homeland (which will catch many European nationals).  It also requires foreign intended parents to provide an undertaking that their surrogate born child will be entitled to foreign citizenship from their home country.  This is designed to stop the birth of surrogate born children in India who are stateless (since they are not currently recognized as Indian citizens) and who cannot then navigate a safe legal path home with their intended parents.

The Bill also requires foreign intended parents to retain a local guardian to support the surrogate in their absence.  If the intended parents do not assume care of the child after the birth, the child will then be granted Indian citizenship and the guardian will then be able to arrange his/her adoption in India.  This is designed to stop cases where surrogate born children have been born legally parentless in India due to an international conflict of law and intended parents have either struggled to get home safely with their child or they abandoned the child altogether.

The Bill also restricts surrogate mothers to those aged 21 to 35 years, with a cap of five successful live births in her lifetime including the births of her own children. Overall, the Bill’s aim is to support the rights of surrogate born children, surrogate mothers and intended parents and bring about legal regulation with criminal sanctions for those who breach the law. This demonstrates once again that surrogacy law and practice remains a fast moving area and this is something to watch in the months ahead as we wait to see what the end result will be.

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