40% rise in global family disputes

Report shows surge in cases where a British judge has to step in

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The Independent Online

The number of legal rows between parents living in different countries, in which a British judge has to step in, has surged by 40 per cent in the last year, a report showed today.

The Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales is brought in to help international family disputes including some kidnapping and child custody cases.

An annual report from the Office includes the case of a mother who had taken her children to France to prevent them from being taken into care, where they were found living on a waterlogged caravan site and were not attending school.

The report shows the Office, run by Lord Justice Thorpe, handled three new cases in its first year in 2005, rising to 65 in 2008, 180 in 2011 and 253 in 2012.

In the report, Lord Justice Thorpe and Edward Bennett, the lawyer who supports him, said the rise in requests for help is down to two factors.

He said: "The first is the ever increasing number of international family cases coming before the courts, necessitating assistance from an overseas judge or vice versa.

"The second is the increasing awareness amongst judges and practitioners throughout the world of the service that the Office provides and the benefits it can bring."

Lord Justice Thorpe said co-operation between countries on family law was needed due to "globalisation, increasing movement of persons across borders, and the ever rising number of family units which are truly international".

Lord Justice Thorpe's office acts as a help desk for judges and lawyers at home and abroad who have seen their cases stalled and delayed because two countries' legal systems are involved.

In another case, the Office obtained the assurances of the Cypriot Attorney General that a woman agreeing to return from Britain to Cyprus with her child would not be prosecuted by the Cypriot authorities.

Within Europe, the largest number of requests to the Office, both incoming and outgoing, related to Poland, with Spain, Germany and France closely behind.