Let’s Consider Brexit’s Impact On Families And Children

We see evidence of globalisation everywhere, and much is made of the “global economy”. But we also have global families.

People choose to live and work in different countries for a variety of reasons. With Britain part of the EU, UK residents have come to view the free access to the whole of the EU as simple and straightforward.

They can choose to go and live in Europe for work, or for a different lifestyle. Most don’t consider themselves to be emigrating, or being very far from their extended families. Cheap and easy access to flights makes staying in contact easy. But Brexit is set to change all that.

Lawyers have already had an opportunity to share their concerns with the government about the legislative fall out of Brexit. The Justice Select Committee’s inquiry ‘Implications of Brexit for the justice system’ saw those representing family law make some valid points about jurisdictional choice for achieving legal separation.

The Committee was right to invite comment from professionals in the justice system. But moving ahead it will be crucial to consider the perspective of ‘ordinary’ citizens too.

Who will get into the minds of the average separating couple to see the impact of Brexit from their perspective? Their first thought when their family disintegrates won’t be “Would I get a better settlement if I were to file for divorce in the UK or Belgium?” They are more concerned with the issues immediately at hand:

• Shall I stay here or return to my country of origin?

• Can I work where I am to support myself and the children?

• Will we be able to share our finances until we get this sorted out?

• Will the rent or mortgage be paid?

• How will I still be able to see the children when I am in a different country in a disjointed Europe?

Whilst we’re in the EU, when a relationship breaks down they may make decisions for one person to return home to the UK with the children, viewing the maintenance of good post-separation parental relationships as fairly straightforward.

But what happens after Brexit? Changing boundaries and jurisdictions will create unforeseen obstacles. Will those families still enjoy the simplicity of maintaining their separated relationships and, more importantly, their relationships with their children?

It’s possible that children living in countries that remain in the EU will face significantly more challenges and barriers to maintaining contact with their UK-based parents as we disentangle from the EU.

Advances in the way British family courts manage applications for contact and residence for children mean there is now more emphasis on the children’s rights to see both parents. But Brexit could set family life back to pre-Children Act days.

Will we see 21st century living taking place elsewhere, with UK families plunged back to a 1950s-type insular existence, regretting the loss of our colonial loss of power?

Will it narrow and limit the next generation’s opportunities to travel relatively freely to access different cultures and work opportunities?

There’s a genuine danger we could see children thrown back to a time where access to one of their parents is much reduced, with immigration red tape a prohibiting factor to helping those children keep in touch. It could mirror the situation families currently face where the children have been removed to non-EU and non-Hague Convention countries. Absence of legal reciprocity means that too often children effectively lose one of their parents.

Law makers have myriad issues to contend with as the Brexit minefield is negotiated. But on the face of it the impact on separating families, particularly children, seems to have barely registered at government level. And that needs to change urgently.