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 features in The Lawyer Hot 100 2018 Career Quiz

I’m delighted to feature in The Lawyer Hot 100 Career Quiz 2018 for my cutting-edge fertility and family law practice. To read the full interview click here.

The Lawyer Hot 100 “celebrates the UK’s top lawyers: the ones acting on the most significant matters, disrupting the industry with their creative flair. It tracks exceptional individuals from private practice, in-house and the Bar”.

Now in its 17th year, The Laywer Hot 100 continues to showcase legal innovation, expertise and achievements in the field of law. Fertility and family law is rapidly evolving in the UK. It creates complex legal and wider issues and is often out-paced by the needs and expectations of people building modern families using assisted conception. People’s personal and family lives are incredibly varied and this area of work requires not only  extensive knowledge of the law but also understanding of individuals’ and their many motivations, pressures and experiences.

To read more about The Lawyer Hot 100 read my previous blog piece.

 

 

 

 

 

Trends in Fertility and Family Law

There have been a number of significant developments in UK fertility law, policy and practice in recent months and its association with family law.

On 15 December 2016 the HFEA approved the use of a new and innovative medical technique, which is known as mitochondrial donation. This could help around 15% of people affected by genetic diseases. UK fertility clinics can now apply to the HFEA for permission to use this technique in fertility treatment.

In February 2017, research from Harvard University found that women who work more than 40 hours a week may take 20 percent longer to get pregnant compared with women who work 21 – 40 hours a week. Their research found that lifting heavy loads several times a day may delay pregnancy by as much as 50 percent. It reported that physical strain lifting, 8 hours a day on your feet, working nightshifts and long hours at work may impair women’s pregnancy prospects. This prompted headlines that “female bankers are the least likely to conceive through IVF” and “women who work a lot may struggle to get pregnant”.

The spotlight then fell on UK fertility clinic practices. We read about “cash for eggs”, egg freezing, expensive “add-on” treatments and misleading sales pitches to fertility patients. Consequently, in May 2017 the HFEA investigated alleged breaches of its code of practice and announced it had taken enforcement action in September 2017.

Over the last year, women have been reminded not to be overly optimistic about getting pregnant in their late 30s and 40s. Companies like Apple and Facebook have started to offer fertility benefits including egg freezing to female employees. This has driven increased interest in egg freezing across the UK.

In May 2017, the HFEA issued a statement about egg freezing. It warned clinics to give accurate predictions about the chances of success, highlighting that data is limited and that available national data showed that the pregnancy rate is around 22% for women of all age groups.

A new style app, ‘Just A Baby’ launched in the UK in May 2017 bringing together prospective parents, co-parents, egg and sperm donors and surrogates. With potential candidates in your local area now just a swipe-away, it brings a new dimension to having a baby. Modern families and those formed through assisted conception represent more legally complex and difficult cases to manage and resolve. Deciding to start a family is a big step financially, practically, legally and emotionally. This makes it more important than ever before for modern families to have a strong legal foundation.

In September 2017 in a legal first, the English High Court awarded damages of £74,000 to a woman for surrogacy following a delay in detecting cancer in smear tests and biopsies. I gave expert evidence on fertility and family law issues in this case and it was a first-of-its kind award following complex court proceedings. It marked the meeting of medical negligence and fertility law in the UK and sparked debate about a new ‘fertility’ head of claim.

In December 2017, The Law Commission of England and Wales published its report on a 13th Programme of Law Reform. It announced it intends to review surrogacy law over the next 2-3 years to reach recommendations and potential draft legislation, taking the view surrogacy law is outdated, unclear and requires comprehensive reform.

In December 2017, the government also published a paper and draft remedial order to enable single people to apply for a parental order subject to meeting prescribed legal criteria. It is hoped this will pass into new law later this year.

Fertility law, policy and practice continues to evolve and this makes it important to understand and proactively manage the complex legal issues on a case by case basis.

BBC World Service Interview: Banning Commercial Surrogacy in Thailand

I was delighted to join the debate on BBC World Service Have Your Say on Friday 20 February 2015 following the ban of commercial surrogacy in Thailand.

The programme offered varied views and experiences about commercial and altruistic surrogacy.  Gwen Robinson, Asia Editor for Nikkei Asian Review, explained background events in Thailand which led to the Thai government’s decision to ban commercial surrogacy in Thailand last week.  the programme also featured a US surrogate mother, Minette Briant, Dr Margaret Somerville, Professor and Founding Director at Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, Montreal, Hans Hirsh, a parent through overseas surrogacy, Natalie Smith, a parent through UK surrogacy, Dr Nayna Patel and a UK surrogate mother, Sarah Jones.

To listen to the whole interview click here.

The issues raised by surrogacy will be further debated at the Families Through Surrogacy Conference in London on 21 March 2015, where I will be a keynote speaker. For more information 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”.

 

International Surrogacy Law: Time Limit for parental order

The English High Court has today published a significant legal ruling on the 6 month time limit for issuing a parental order in the English Family Court set out in s54 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has  ruled for the first time in Re X (A Child) (Surrogacy: Time limit) [2014] EWHC 3135 (Fam) that the six month time limit can in some circumstances be extended.  Sir James Munby went on to grant a parental order in respect of the child born through surrogacy in India on 15 December 2011 stating:

“Where in the light of all this does the six-month period specified in section 54(3) stand?  Can Parliament really have intended that the gate should be barred forever if the application for a parental order is lodged even one day late?  I cannot think so.  Parliament has not explained its thinking, but given the transcendental importance of a parental order, with its consequences stretching many, many decades into the future, can it sensibly be thought that Parliament intended that the difference between six months and six months and one day be determinative and one day’s delay to be fatal?  I assume that Parliament intended a sensible result.  Given the subject matter, given the consequences for the commissioning parents, never mind those for the child, to construe section 54(3) as barring forever an application made just one day late is not, in my judgment, sensible.  It is the very antithesis of sensible; it is almost nonsensical”.

That said,  Sir James Munby was careful to make clear that each case will be fact specific and he went on to state:

“I intend to lay down no principle beyond that which appears from the authorities.  Every case will, to a greater or lesser degree, be fact specific.  In the circumstances of this case the application should be allowed to proceed.  No one – not the surrogate parents, not the commissioning parents, not the child – will suffer any prejudice if the application is allowed to proceed. On the other hand, the commissioning parents and the child stand to suffer immense and irremediable prejudice if the application is halted in its tracks”.

Shortlisted by Family Law Awards 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

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.

Three reasons why surrogacy can go wrong

Surrogacy offers hope of a much wanted family to many.  It can bring immense happiness and joy.  However, it can be a risky business and not all experiences are positive.

Your surrogate fails to give valid consent

A landmark legal case in the English High Court decided earlier this month, D and L (Minors) (Surrogacy) 2012, illustrates the problems that can happen when a surrogate mother fails to co-operate and relinquish her legal status for the child.  In D and L, a  UK gay couple applied for parental orders for their twin boys, conceived with the help of an Indian surrogate mother through a clinic in Hyderabad, India.  They never met their Indian surrogate mother, dealing instead with the Indian clinic directly.  The couple were unable to obtain signed forms from their Indian surrogate mother consenting  to the grant of parental orders to enable them to become the twins’ legal parents under UK law. Their Indian clinic refused to help secure their surrogate’s written consent and the couple were unable to trace her themselves after the twins’ birth.  All they received was a package in the post, containing a single sheet of paper with an obscene gesture on it.

The couple did everything they could to comply with UK legal requirements and they were badly let down by their clinic. Following complex court proceedings, the judge eventually granted them parental orders and dispensed with the requirement for the legal consent of their surrogate who could not be found.  The judge did, however, issue a warning that future intended parents should learn the lesson that clear lines of communication with their surrogate are established to ensure they can obtain the necessary consent after the six week cooling off period post birth.

Your surrogate has a change of heart

Although rare, a surrogate mother sometimes has a change of heart and decides she wishes to keep the baby.  This can happen for a variety of reasons and if a dispute arises, it creates difficult and challenging legal proceedings and the court will make a decision in the best interests of the child.  As surrogacy agreements are not legally binding in the UK, this creates tension between the rights of surrogate mothers and intended parents.

The pregnancy is unsuccessful

Sadly, not all surrogate pregnancies result in a live birth.  This can be devastating for all involved and it raises difficult issues.  This can hit home even harder in circumstances where intended parents have already had a long and difficult fertility journey.

With so many risks, there is no substitute for obtaining expert legal advice, working with reputable clinics and agencies and maintaining direct links with the surrogate throughout the process.

Mother in surrogacy case fights legal battle for maternity rights

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.

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