It is estimated that family breakdown directly affects approximately one-third of the UK population*. Many parents who find themselves in this situation dread the English family law courts, according to Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors (http://www.gelaw.co.uk ), a specialist in matrimonial and family law cases. Fears about the way the system works are particularly acute in cases where the primary carer – usually the mother – wants to emigrate overseas with the child (‘leave to remove cases’), against the wishes of the father. But the outcome of such cases may not be the foregone conclusion that most assume.
A new approach which combines law with psychological profiling is having a profound effect on age old assumptions. And a Court of Appeal decision last week** has given encouragement to those who believe that courts are too quick to favour emigrating mothers. Richard Gregorian, solicitor and principal of Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors, who has experienced the family law courts from both sides of the ‘fence’ – as a legal professional and, a few years ago, as a client – says: “Some 1,200 ‘leave to remove’ cases are heard by the English family law courts every year. For almost 40 years, these courts have been bound by a legal precedent that has made it relatively easy for the primary carer to obtain permission to relocate with the children, perhaps to the far side of the world. If the application is granted, the other parent has their contact limited, typically to four to six weeks a year during holidays. Because of the cost of international travel, the parent who is left behind may only see their children once every year or two, or may even effectively lose contact with their children altogether.” He adds: “Over the last two decades, there has been growing criticism of the law in this area because of the greater role played by fathers in bringing up their children. To date, the courts have resisted the ‘two parents are better than one’ argument, instead focusing on the emotional damage to the mother if her application to emigrate is refused. The theory is that Mum’s distress will be transferred on to the children and be against their interests. However, the courts are now becoming increasingly willing to acknowledge that a father is also important to the child’s development. Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors is taking a different approach to family law cases – including ‘leave to remove’ cases – and is giving hope to parents involved in such disputes. The practise takes a holistic approach that goes far beyond the ‘black and white’ of the legal system and involves applying psychological understanding and support as well as legal expertise, filling a gap that Richard Gregorian has identified as crucial when it comes to assessing properly the needs of both parents and children. By applying this joint legal-psychological approach specifically in the area of leave to remove cases, Gregorian Emmerson has been successful on behalf of many clients, even to the point of persuading the mother from applying to the courts to emigrate in the first place. Says Gregorian: “The use of pre-trial psychologically based interventions can make a huge difference to the outcome of a case, as it avoids the normal combative style of case-fighting, with the parents resorting to having a go at each other: an undesirable approach that can leave clients feeling emotionally and financially drained.” As well as applying psychological profiling to see if the applicant’s distress claims are genuine, Gregorian Emerson gives its clients psychological support throughout the case. This support is delivered by Gavin Emerson, a psychological strategist. Says Richard: “The application of legal expertise alone can leave parents feeling disillusioned and helpless. A client who fears losing their child – but cannot adequately communicate their feelings about a complex legal case – can sink into a spiral of negativity: hardly an ideal state in which to conduct litigation, think flexibly or function in other aspects of their life. This will inevitably have a knock-on effect upon the child’s wellbeing.” He adds: “According to a survey of 200 parents involved in the family justice system from Families Need Fathers and the Equal Parenting Alliance, 35% of respondents had contemplated suicide, with a shocking 7% having actually attempted suicide. Clearly, this must be addressed. A psychological professional who understands these issues can preserve the client’s emotional and psychological state, thereby avoiding the client sinking into a ‘spiral of doom’.” The approach being pioneered by Gregorian Emerson builds a full case history of the family breakdown and its contributory factors, encourages open communications on sensitive issues and develops a legal case that truly reflects the client’s experience and position. Clients can gain a deep level of insight that enables them to focus on the best interests of the child rather than fighting with the partner and, as a result, parents are more likely to achieve a consensual settlement, united behind the common goal of what’s best for the child. Richard Gregorian concludes: “There really is light at the end of the tunnel for fathers who don’t want to lose contact with their children in ‘leave to remove’ cases. Forthcoming reviews of family law – which we expect to focus on the general validity of the maternal distress argument as meaning that emigration is in a child’s best interests – dovetail well with our own belief that a psychological understanding is paramount. It’s our hope and expectation that this joint legal-psychological approach will develop into an integrated part of family law.” Ends Notes for editors
Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors is a specialist family law practice covering all aspects of relationship separation, including matters concerning children of broken-down relationships and international relocation cases. The practice was founded by two experts in their respective fields: Richard Gregorian, solicitor (LLB.Hons) and Gavin Emerson, psychological strategist. The firm has developed a unique service that combines legal and psychological advice to aid the emotional and psychological wellbeing of its clients and to ensure that parents’ concerns are listened to and understood. Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors practices from its London and Surrey offices, and advises clients throughout England. It is regulated by Solicitors Regulation Authority under individual number 162485 and firm number 491007.
See Richard Gregorian’s article on family law matters at: http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed52233 And the article at: http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1212
* Source: ‘Every Family Matters’, page 6
**InD (Children), Re  EWCA Civ 50 (09 February 2010) Lord Justice Wall has given some hope to fathers who oppose the permanent emigration of their children following the breakdown of their relationship. Whilst he was not convinced that any review of the law would have changed the result for two children in this particular case being removed to Slovakia (and, therefore, did not permit the father's appeal to be heard), he did state on several occasions that the over-emphasis on the primary carer's distress at being refused her relocation wishes was a perfectly respectable argument. He stated that in the right case, such an argument would be a compelling reason to permit the case to travel through the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court with a view to the law being reconsidered. The Conservative Party, in its recent review of family law, has also highlighted this area of law for change, seeking to ensure – in these very difficult cases – that arguments about the mother’s distress are approached by the judiciary so that they do not distort the paramount obligation of the court to consider whether the emigration is, in fact, in the child's best interests.