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David Hodson on International Family Law: English conference leads the way for international children

Date:6 JUL 2010

David HodsonLast week the Centre for Family Law and Practice, London Metropolitan University held perhaps the most important international family law conference ever to take place in England. It covered three interlinked subjects of Child Abduction, Relocation and Forced Marriages. It was attended by over 150 of the world's leading international family lawyers and judges, mediators, academics, researchers, policy makers, Central Authority representatives and others working on behalf of international children.

Prof William Duncan, Deputy Secretary General of the Hague Conference, gave the 2010 International Family Law Lecture and spoke about the many challenges facing the Child Abduction Convention in the coming decade and the possibility of a Protocol to the Convention, probably at the 6th Hague Conference in 2011. One tension is the commitment to return the child yet the ever increasing importance of listening to the voice of the child, and what to do when the "voice" goes against what would otherwise be a return. The Convention is still vital including expanding to present non-signatory jurisdictions. Equally it needs ongoing careful consideration of its work and operation.

Those attending were keenly aware of the great differences around the world in the law and practice on child relocation. Some countries barely allow any opportunity to oppose by the non-primary residential parent. Some countries rarely allow relocation. Research from Australia, New Zealand and of course the UK by Prof Marilyn Freeman and reunite highlighted the dramatic impact on children of relocation and the very high financial cost on the parents and wider family. It was almost entirely accepted that Payne is now dramatically past its sell by date because of new parenting patterns and international expectations. It is surely only a matter of time until it can be successfully overturned.

England has led the way in forced marriage legislation, with significant protections in the civil law, injunctive powers and government action. It has been backed by an education and awareness campaign. Victims are sometimes children, sometimes male and sometimes abducted. Many delegates commented that whilst it is undoubtedly a problem in many countries, there is presently very little action occurring. This may be England's best family statute law export since the Children Act 1989! The children of international families will in years to come have much to thank the delegates of this conference for their hard work to improve law and practice across the world.

A full report will appear in International Family Law.

David Hodson is a Consultant at The International Family Law Group. He acts in complex family law cases, often with an international element. 

He is an English specialist accredited solicitor, mediator, family arbitrator, Deputy District Judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, High Court, London and also an Australian qualified solicitor, barrister and mediator. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and author of A Practical Guide to International Family Law (Jordan Publishing, 2008). He is chair of the Family Law Review Group of the Centre for Social Justice. He can be contacted on dh@davidhodson.com.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.