Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fertility and Family Law in Action

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

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 and delighted the Michelmores’ Family and Fertility Team was awarded a top tier position by Legal 500 UK 2015. 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.

November 2015 saw the launch of the specialist fertility and parenting website at Michelmores www.michelmores.com/what-we-do/services/fertility-law. This contains more information about my legal practice and a wealth of topical and cutting-edge information about fertility, parenting and family law including: fertility treatment, surrogacy, donor conception, co-parenting, embryos, eggs and sperm, adoption, family law and disputes and children and parenting.  It contains articles, publications, a blog and a resource hub to help raise awareness of fertility and family law issues in the UK and what this can mean for those seeking to build or complete their family or parent children on a day-to-day basis.

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. You can find out more about my work here www.michelmores.com/what-we-do/services/fertility-law/publications.

I can be contacted by email Louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com or by telephone +44 (0)207 7886382.

 

 

 

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

Monday, March 9th, 2015

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.

To find out more about surrogacy law in the UK contact me by email Louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com or call +44 (0)207 7886382.

Louisa Ghevaert joins Michelmores

Monday, August 25th, 2014

I’m delighted to join Michelmores Solicitors as a partner to head up a specialist fertility, family and parenting law practice. Michelmores have offices in Chancery Lane in London, Bristol and Exeter.

I can be contacted by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com, by telephone +44 (0)207 7886382 or visit www.michelmores.com.

My award-winning, innovative and pioneering legal practice includes international and UK surrogacy, donor conception, co-parenting, fertility treatment law, posthumous conception, inter-country adoption, divorce and finances, cohabitation and complex family and children law.

I’m ranked as a leading lawyer in fertility and family law by Chambers & Partners UK 2014, which says ‘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”.’ I’m also ranked as a leading expert by The Legal 500 UK 2013.

I’ve represented fertility patients, parents and intended parents in numerous well known UK fertility law cases including, embryo storage and surrogacy disputes, landmark applications for parental orders in the English Family Court following commercial surrogacy and disputes over NHS fertility treatment funding.

My specialist fertility and family law practice was High Commended at The Law Society Excellence Awards 2013 in the Category of Business Development and Innovation.  I was also shortlisted at The Family Law Awards 2013 in the Category of Most Innovative Family Lawyer of The Year.

I’m joined by Rachel Cook, a leading authority on adoption and children law.  Rachel’s specialist expertise brings added depth to the fertility, family and parenting team at Michelmores.  Rachel is a member of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering Legal Group Advisory Committee, a member of the Department of Education Adoption Stakeholder Group, an Independent Panel Chair of a Local Authority Adoption Agency and a trustee to a large Voluntary Adoption Agency.

 

Fertility and family law in progress

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

2013 has been another busy year in terms of the practice of fertility and family law.  The law continues to evolve and face many challenges in view of the globalisation of fertility treatment, increasingly complex family building expectations and modern family life.

I was delighted to be invited to lecture at The Fertility Show at the London Olympia on 3 November 2013 on the legal issues arising from UK and international surrogacy arrangements. This was closely followed by my attendance at the American Association of Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAARTA) autumn conference in Charleston, South Carolina from 10 – 12 November 2013 where I delivered a lecture on European Fertility law. This follows on from my previous lectures this year on fertility and family law at the College of Medicine’s Annual Conference in London in June 2013 and at the American Bar Association’s spring conference in Alaska in April 2013. These events provide a forum to raise awareness and discuss the challenges and lessons learned by all those involved in the fertility sector.

I welcome the UK industry recognition that has been attributed to fertility law this year.  For my part, I am delighted to have been ranked as a leading lawyer in the field of fertility and family law by Chambers & Partners UK 2014 and Legal 500 UK 2013.  I was also delighted that my legal practice was Highly Commended at The Law Society Excellence Awards 2013 in the category of Business Development and Innovation and that I was shortlisted at Jordans Family Law Awards 2013 in the category of Most Innovative Family Lawyer of the Year. Industry recognition marks the rising profile attributed to fertility law and its increasing association with family law.  It also helps to raise awareness of the complex legal issues associated with fertility treatment and modern family building options.

Surrogacy continues to spark much debate around the world and challenge law and policy makers.  I provided expert evidence to the Hague in relation to its ongoing work in the arena of international surrogacy in September 2013 and like many, I await its further report next year.  There have also been several recent legal challenges in the European Court of Justice brought by intended mothers in surrogacy cases in relation to maternity rights (one brought by a woman based in the north of England). I welcome the government’s commitment to introduce maternity and paternity rights for intended parents through surrogacy in 2015 and hope this will help to alleviate the difficulties many intended parents currently face.

Fertility law and its association with family law remains work in progress. As such, there is still much work to be done.

 

Shortlisted by Family Law Awards 2013

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

I’m delighted to be shortlisted by Jordan’s Family Law Awards 2013 in the category of Most Innovative Family Lawyer of the Year.  This helps to further raise the profile of fertility law in the UK and its developing association with traditional family law and helps those struggling to have a much wanted family of their own.

The Family Law Awards recognise and celebrate the important work of leading family lawyers across the country.  The panel of judges includes the heads of leading practitioners bodies, journal editors and important legal figures.  Three of the awards, including ‘Most Innovative Family Lawyer of the Year’, are voted for by the general public. Please vote for me as every vote really counts.

I am committed to delivering an innovative and specialist fertility and family law service for fertility patients, children and families. This includes groundbreaking legal solutions for a variety of alternative family building options and parenting issues, including domestic and international surrogacy, donor conception, IVF, adoption, children and family disputes.

Voting for the Family Law Awards ends at midnight on Sunday 15 September 2013.   The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 9 October 2013.

Elizabeth Banks welcomes second surrogate son

Friday, November 16th, 2012

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. To read my previous article about Elizabeth Banks in magazine Fertility Road entitled Surrogacy and the Celebrity factor click here.

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.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legalities of  UK surrogacy law please contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Mother in surrogacy case fights legal battle for maternity rights

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

An intended mother from Kent is taking legal action against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for the same maternity rights as adoptive parents.

The woman has taken her case to the High Court arguing that she has been discriminated against under The Human Rights Act.  She is arguing that the Government has failed to ensure respect for intended parents’ private and family life in surrogacy cases and that the Government has a positive obligation to avoid discrimination.

The woman and her husband conceived with the help of a surrogate and IVF last year.  When she approached her employer for information about maternity rights and entitlement, her employer advised her that they were under no legal obligation to allow her time off work to care for her child, although they finally offered her a year’s unpaid leave as a gesture of goodwill.

The woman then contacted her local MP, who forwarded her request for help with obtaining paid maternity leave to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  The Department of Work & Pensions is understood to have refused to help saying that maternity benefits were related to “time off in the later stages of pregnancy and [to] prepare for, and recover from, childbirth in the interests of health and that of their baby”.  The woman queried their response highlighting that leave is given for adoptive parents.

Sadly, having accepted the offer of unpaid leave, the woman was made redundant shortly after the birth of her baby son.  As she did not qualify for maternity leave, her unpaid leave was not legally protected.

Parents of surrogate born children should have the same legal rights and protection as other parents.  The current lack of legal protection can cause immense hardship for intended parents, who can face financial difficulties and worries about job security or even job loss.  This sends out a worrying message that parents and children born through surrogacy are second class citizens and this needs to change.  Current surrogacy laws in the UK are outdated and there needs to be a root and branch overhaul to make them fit for the twenty first century.

If you would like more information about surrogacy law or you would like to discuss your situation in more detail please contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

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

Friday, September 7th, 2012

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.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legal issues surrounding surrogacy please contact me by email louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

Surrogacy ban to hit Queensland: a worrying step backwards

Friday, July 6th, 2012

The Queensland government has announced that it plans to change surrogacy law to prevent single people, gay couples and straight couples who have lived together for less than two years from undergoing surrogacy. Existing altruistic surrogacy legislation was only passed in February 2010, de-criminalising altruistic surrogacy although commercial surrogacy remains a crime.

The Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said shortly before his election in March that his party would not make any changes to surrogacy law.  He has subsequently said this was a mistake and that they intend to change the law and restrict surrogacy to longstanding heterosexual couples only.  These proposed changes will effectively criminalise altruistic surrogacy arrangements for single people, gay couples and heterosexual couples who have lived together for less than two years and they will face a prison sentence of up to three years if they have a child through surrogacy.

These proposed changes represent a significant government u-turn and a worrying step backwards in terms of the rights of single people and gay and straight couples to access surrogacy.  These proposed changes will create additional worry and heartache for many prospective parents, who will either seek to keep ‘below the radar’ with their family building plans or move to a state with less restrictive and discriminatory laws. Interest in surrogacy continues to grow around the world.  Growing numbers of intended parents are already crossing borders to access surrogacy in the face of restrictive laws at home and these numbers look set to increase in light of these proposed changes to the law in Queensland.

Surrogacy arrangements, particularly those with an international element, can raise complex legal issues and international conflicts of law. If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about the legal issues associated with international surrogacy please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.

The intersection of fertility and family law

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

I was delighted to attend Family Law’s annual drinks party in central London last night following my specialist contribution to The International Family Law Practice Second Edition (March 2012).  The evening was very well attended by judges, barristers, lawyers, specialist experts and members of Jordans Publishing group who came together to celebrate the launch of a number of new publications in the arena of family, children and parenting and fertility law.

For the first time, The International Family Law Practice includes a specialist chapter on surrogacy law which I co-authored with David Hodson, partner at The International Family Law Group and a deputy district judge.  This leading practitioner textbook known as ‘the Grey Book’ in legal circles provides comprehensive coverage of the complex and rapidly developing area of international family law and its intersection with assisted reproduction law in the form of international surrogacy.

If you would like more information about the legal issues associated with surrogacy in the UK or international surrogacy please email me louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com.