Abducted children face “legal limbo” after Brexit

Photo by Séan Gorman on Unsplash

Lawyers have warned that children caught up in tug of love divorce cases could be left in “legal limbo” after Brexit. The reaction came in response to a Whitehall policy paper published last week on a framework for civil judicial co-operation on cross-border commerce, ​trade and family relationships. The paper says that the UK wants to incorporate existing agreements to provide a “coherent legal framework” for British and EU businesses to trade and invest across borders, and support the protection of individual and family rights in cross-border disputes”. 

Joanna Farrands, a partner at the Surrey law firm Barlow Robbins, said that abducted children were currently protected under EU regulations that provided for the speedy return of children. After Brexit, if that no longer applied, parents would have to resort to alternative treaties such as the Hague Convention, which does not have the same time limits, she said. It would be more difficult to transfer cases between the UK and different EU countries, increasing the complexity and scope for delays. 

Claire Wood, family law partner at Kingsley Napley, welcomed the proposals but said that uncertainty as to how the law would work after Brexit was putting international families under pressure. “Family lawyers are very concerned how divorce, maintenance and children disputes will work post-Brexit for international families with interests in the EU and the UK.”

David Lidington, the justice secretary, agreed that current arrangements would end when Britain left the EU but insisted that we would continue to have an arrangement and the best outcome would be close cooperation on civil judicial matters, similar to the present system. “At the moment we've a got a good, effective system of EU law that says where there is a cross-border dispute – over child custody, over divorce, over consumer rights – this is the procedure for deciding which country's courts are responsible for sorting it out,” he said.

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