Resolution’s Modern Families Forum 2024

21 June 2024

Louisa Ghevaert attended Resolution’s Modern Families Forum 2024 on 20 June 2024 and had the privilege of meeting Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond DBE and listening to her keynote address on the legal recognition of “family” from the 1960s to the present day. Lady Hale successfully broke through the glass ceiling and was the first woman President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 until her retirement in 2020. In meeting Lady Hale, Louisa was privileged to discuss her legal involvement and the transformational outcome of Whittington Hospital NHS Trust v XX [2020] UKSC 14, which was Lady Hale’s last case in the Supreme Court and enabled the recovery of damages for fertility treatment, donor conception and surrogacy following medical negligence.

Images: Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE and Louisa Ghevaert, CEO & Founder of Louisa Ghevaert Associates.

In giving her keynote address, Lady Hale explained that the definition of “family” is much wider today than it was in the 1960s when she started her legal career. Back in the 1960s, the definition of “family” was people related by blood or affinity through heterosexual marriage with the only exception to that being adoption. Today, the definition of “family” includes unmarried cohabitants and same-sex families and those families built through surrogacy, which goes way beyond blood relations and affinity. She went on to explain that this is not the end of the evolution of what is a “family” and that in determining legal cases involving children all considerations should be rooted in what is in the best interests of the child.

Modern Family Law Update

Barristers Andrew Powell and Dorothea Gartland KC then provided an insightful and varied case law update concerning modern families dealing with biological and legal parenthood, assisted conception and fertility treatment, donor conception and surrogacy. This was followed by a session looking at the legal issues arising in respect of embryos on separation, including continued storage and consent to use.

Images: Louisa Ghevaert CEO & Founder Louisa Ghevaert Associates, Andrew Powell Barrister and Dorothea Gartland KC at 4PB Chambers and Caroline Spencer fertility counsellor.

Thereafter, fertility counsellor Caroline Spencer addressed the many challenges encountered by patients and prospective parents whilst undergoing fertility treatment. She explained how these can affect finances, intimacy and plans for the future. It can also be incredibly frustrating living with uncertainty and cause a range of feelings including: anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, shame, envy and psychosexual problems. She explained that women have a more positive attitude towards seeking psychological help than men (S.Koydemir-Ozden, 2010) and that women are more likely to seek couples counselling for general distress (BICA Audits, 2020 – 2023, Petersen, Boivin, Norre, 2012).

Caroline explained that the counsellor’s role is to help people process painful emotions and find a way forward through hurt, anger, frustration, goal obstruction, sadness and loss. Their role also helps people process their feelings and make difficult decisions about frozen embryos, including those who have completed their families but struggle to let their embryos go. She went on to explain the sensitive work that is undertaken to help people deal with anticipatory grief and preparing for the loss of their embryos as well as recognition that endings are important.

Family Law and Lived Experience of Trans Identities and Parenthood

Following a family law update on trans identities, Freddy McConnell provided personal insight into his lived experience as a transgender man and parent of two children aged 6 and two years old. He explained that when he transitioned 12 – 13 years ago, he waited two years for medical appointments whereas people can now expect to wait 5 – 7 years. He explained that he first became aware that trans men could carry a pregnancy by chance when he came across a US Vlog about this on YouTube. He then paused his testosterone treatment in 2016 in order to have a baby. He conceived within six months through IUI fertility treatment and experienced a good pregnancy and birth. He went on to say that he was fortunate as a solo parent to have family support, his career as a journalist and a strong friendship network whereas this is not always the case for other trans individuals.

Freddy explained that he first realised he would not be registered as “father” on his child’s birth certificate before he got pregnant. He had asked an online community and been told he would have to register as “mother”. This led him to consult the head of legal at his place of work and a lawyer for advice. At first he thought it was a legal oversight and an issue that had just not been thought about. He explained that it felt unfair and he wanted to try and do something about it. He therefore mounted a legal test case in the English High Court, Family Division, which was unsuccessful and resulted in a legal ruling that he be registered as “mother” on his child’s birth certificate. He then made an unsuccessful application to the Court of Appeal, which he found to be a difficult and disheartening experience as his identity as his child’s father was not recognised. He went on to say that this resulted in his children having documents which do not recognise their family and parental identity. Furthermore, he shared his view that there should be a gender neutral system for birth registration enabling individuals to register as father/parent in order to recognise different family structures.

Image: Freddy McConnell, multi media journalist and transgender man who gave birth.

Need Advisory & Consultancy, a Fertility, Surrogacy or Modern Family Lawyer?

The creation of modern families formed through assisted conception, fertility treatment, donor conception and surrogacy and the evolving nature of parenthood encompassing married, heterosexual and same-sex couples, solo and transgender parents raises complex legal and practical issues. These legal and wider issues need to be navigated with care so that fertility patients, prospective parents, donors and surrogates can make informed decisions about the implications and outcomes of modern family building and family life.

If you need advisory, consultancy or legal assistance to put in place effective strategies to manage preconception, fertility treatment and global family building, pregnancy, birth and general and family life contact Louisa Ghevaert by email or telephone +44 (0)20 7965 8399.

Louisa Ghevaert

Images: Louisa Ghevaert, CEO & Founder Louisa Ghevaert Associates

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