By John Fotheringham and Lucia Clark, Child and family law specialists

THE impact of Brexit on family law has yet to be worked out. Who will recognise the decisions of our country’s courts and whose court decisions will we accept? For families with links to more than one country, how will we decide which court deals with issues, should their relationship breakdown?

These issues are touched on in the recent Government paper Providing a Cross-Border Civil Judicial Cooperation Framework, which looks at the problems that may arise in the post-Brexit era for families and businesses. The paper notes that one million Britons live in other EU countries while three million EU citizens live in the UK. It says: “When things go wrong, families need to know that they will be able to resolve disputes in a clear, predictable way, without undue delay.” This is an admirable aim but is it achievable?

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There are already warnings about the cliff-edge scenario of Brexit making it harder to deal with cases of British children abducted overseas in the future. The fear is that appealing to EU courts for help could become harder if Britain fails to persuade those in the union to continue legal cooperation.

EU law regulating divorce and families works because it is reciprocal and because there is an ultimate arbiter, the European Court of Justice, to ensure the uniform interpretation of rules. Just hoping that the existing rules will continue on a reciprocal basis when the UK will cease to have any input on changing these rules, without an overarching court to enforce them, seems the worst case scenario.

But there is a solution. There are other international conventions, particularly in relation to children. While the Government paper suggests that these could take the place of existing EU rules in some areas, it states that others won’t provide the “sophisticated and effective interaction” of the EU rules. That is not necessarily the case.

For instance, child abduction and the protection of children are covered by the 1980 and 1996 international Hague conventions. Brexit will have no effect on the operation of these conventions, which apply where there is an international child dispute involving a country outwith the EU.

The UK has ratified both of conventions in its own right, not just as an EU member. After Brexit they could apply equally well to disputes with the remaining EU countries. Indeed, there are arguably some ways in which the conventions operate better than the EU equivalent.

Also, maintenance for children is covered by one EU Regulation (The Maintenance Regulation, No 4/2009) and another Hague Convention of 2007. The UK is bound by the EU regulation because it ratified it as part of the EU. There is nothing to stop the UK from signing and ratifying the Hague Convention in its own right after Brexit. It is understood that this is what the Government plans to do.

Unless the UK reaches a separate deal with the EU about jurisdiction and enforcement for maintenance, the fall back will be the 2007 Hague Convention. Again, there are arguably ways in which this convention is better than similar EU law. The Government’s paper states that it is keen to avoid a “cliff edge”. Brexit generally is strewn with cliff edges that the UK Government will have to be careful to avoid, including other areas of family law.

But, in the limited area of child law, the applicable Hague conventions should be more than able to fill in any gaps Brexit might leave.

John Fotheringham, child and family law consultant, and Lucia Clark, family law partner, are with law firm Morton Fraser.