We are experienced legal practitioners who work in the Belfast based firm of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors. We aim to provide both information and a forum for discussion on all legal matters surrounding family life, from the cradle to the grave. In our blog, we try wherever possible to avoid legal jargon to help you understand the law which affects all our lives.
Many may view Domestic Violence as something that primarily affects younger women or women with children.
The Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid Older Women’s Project highlights that just as many older women are affected by domestic violence, have suffered long-term abuse in the home and often face more barriers in their help- seeking process.
We are very grateful to Olga Attwood from Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid who works with the Older Women’s Project for providing us with an article to share with our followers, entitled ‘Domestic Violence is Ageless’
Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid will be convening their Annual Conference today, celebrating the organisation’s work over the last year and outlining their future plans as an organisation for the year ahead.The Conference will focus this year on the area of Domestic Violence and Justice. We are very grateful to Sarah Bruce from Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid for providing us with an article to share with our followers, entitled ‘Be a Voice, Not an Echo’
Earlier this week, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West welcomed the arrival of a baby girl via surrogate. It is understood that the celebrity couple opted for the surrogacy route for their third child after Kim’s two high risk pregnancies with daughter North aged 4 years old and 1 year old son Saint.
Currently, surrogacy arrangements in Northern Ireland are relatively rare, however with couples increasingly opting to have children later in life, the options of both surrogacy and IVF are likely to become more commonplace within our society.
Here is a brief look at the legal implications of having a child via surrogacy…
What is Surrogacy?
Surrogacy is a method of assisted reproduction which provides the opportunity for a couple to have a child together in circumstances where the woman is unable to carry a child herself. The couple (known as ‘the intended parents’) work with a woman who carries a child for them to term – known as a gestational surrogate.
Where the surrogate mother provides the egg which is fertilised with the intended father’s sperm.
Full surrogacy where the egg and sperm are provided by the intended parents and the surrogate mother gestates the embryo.
Is Surrogacy legal?
Yes, surrogacy arrangements were legalised in the UK by the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. This sets out the circumstances in which surrogacy is legal. An arrangement for surrogacy can be legally formalised in advance of the pregnancy. A Surrogacy Agreement can be entered into with the surrogate mother agreeing to bear the child for the couple and surrender the child to them following birth.
Who is the legal parent of a child born via surrogacy?
When a child is born via surrogate, the legal parent of the child is the surrogate mother, regardless of whether the intended mother provided her egg for the purposes of surrogacy. If the surrogate is married, her husband will be considered as the father of the child. This position will not change until altered by a Court.
For the intended parents to become the legal parents of the child and for the transfer of Parental Responsibility to them, an application must be made to the Court for a Parental Order. The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 makes provision for the intended parents to apply to the Courts for a Parental Order after the birth of child.
When such an Order is made, it terminates the rights of the surrogate mother and transfers Parental Responsibility to the intended parents. A Parental Order does not expire and the birth of the child is re-registered in the names of the parents. A Parental Order can only be made if one or both parents are genetically related to the child. If neither of the intended parents are related to the child, then the intended parents must proceed by way of Adoption.
Are there legal risks to surrogacy?
A Surrogacy Arrangement is not without risks, such as the surrogate mother changing her mind and refusing to hand over the child following birth. No one entering into these arrangements does so lightly and it is important that all steps are taken to try to secure and protect the Surrogacy Agreement made between the adults involved.
What legal steps should I take before proceedings with Surrogacy?
Once a surrogate mother is identified, it is important for the parents to enter into a legal agreement with her recording the intentions of the parties. The agreement itself is not necessarily enforceable by the Court, but is an indication of the parties’ intentions which will be taken into account by the Court should a dispute arise.
The surrogate mother cannot be paid for entering the arrangement but she can receive reasonable expenses from the parents for agreeing to carry the child. Later in the pregnancy, it is good practice for all parties can swear legal statements known as affidavits explaining the circumstances and confirming that they have entered into the arrangements willingly with knowledge of what is involved and agreed.
The affidavits can also set out the parties’ intentions as to when the child will be handed over after birth and that the father and surrogate mother will register the birth together with the father’s name on the birth certificate.
Within 6 months following birth, the parents should make an application to the Court for a Parental Order. Certain circumstances must be satisfied for the Parental Order to be made:
The couple must be married, civil partners, or in an enduring family relationship.
The couple must both be over 18 years old.
The couple must be domiciled in the UK.
The Court must be satisfied that no money or other benefit, other than reasonable expenses, has been received by the surrogate.
The surrogate mother must freely and unconditionally consent to the making of the Order.
What if the Surrogate mother changes her mind?
If the surrogate mother refuses to hand the child over or give her consent to a Parental Order being made, or if there are concerns about her capacity to consent, the Court will examine the reasons in more detail.
Ultimately, the welfare of the child is the Court’s paramount consideration in Parental Order applications and as such, it must be shown that it is in the child’s best interest for the Parental Order to be made.
Should you require any further information on Surrogacy Law in NI, please feel free to contact us here.
Last week’s Golden Globe Awards were dominated by the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed Hollywood, with many actresses and actors choosing to wear black as a sign of solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and harassment. “Time’s Up” has become the slogan, and hashtag on social media, encapsulating the reaction to recent revelations about extensive sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry.
The website www.timesupnow.com which has been set up in the USA by multiple organisations including the National Women’s Law Center, reports that 1 in 3 women aged 18-34 years old have been sexually harassed in the workplace while over 70% failed to report it.
In light of this, we thought we it would be helpful to look briefly at Sexual Harassment in the Northern Ireland workplace and what employees and employers can do to protect themselves.
The definition is extremely wide, and it is not necessary to prove that the conduct was intentional. For this reason, it is vital that a zero-tolerance culture exists and that it is explained clearly to all employees the sorts of behaviours that are unacceptable. An act which one person may deem to be insignificant could be considered by an Employment Tribunal to be harassment. The following behaviours can amount to sexual harassment but this list is not exhaustive:-
Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature such as remarks/ questions/ jokes about a colleague’s appearance or sex life
Sending or forwarding on emails that contains content of a sexual nature
Displaying pornographic or explicit images
Unwanted physical contact and touching
Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and may ultimately be held liable for harassment. They should not only ensure that adequate policies are in place to prevent such incidents but also to deal with them when they arise, in a manner that is sufficiently serious, confidential and allows the complainant to be treated with dignity and respect.
Employees should seek legal advice as soon as possible and note that the time limit for bringing a case to a Tribunal is usually 3 months from the date the discriminatory act took place.
The University and College Union has won a case against the University of Ulster over its failure to consult on redundancies, securing the maximum award for staff involved. The case was taken by University College Union when 143 members of teaching and other staff lost their jobs in April 2016, after the University suffered a substantial reduction in DEL funding. Some of the University faculties were closed at the time and undergraduate numbers were reduced.
The Tribunal held that large scale redundancies were inevitable by June 2015 and that discussions ought to have begun with the Union much earlier than they did. The University had failed in its obligations, both under statute and its own redundancy policy. They found that the process was a “fait accompli” with no opportunity for input by the Trade Union who were “actively mislead” and “ostracised” by the University management. The Union were provided with insufficient time and information to meaningfully engage with counter proposals. Effectively, the Tribunal said, the University “put a gun” to the heads of the affected employees.
The University’s failures, the Tribunal said, meant that some staff were treated very poorly which was a “deeply unsatisfactory consequence”. The Tribunal found that failures were deliberate and there was an intention to keep the Union out of the process.
The case looked at the law on the duty to consult about redundancies and whether this had been complied with. It considered whether these redundancies amounted to dismissals, which it found they had. Consideration was also given to what protective award should be made to which staff and for what period. The Tribunal made the maximum award of compensation finding that the University failed egregiously in its duties.
“We are delighted with this result which has significant ramifications not only for the Trade Union and staff involved but also for the university and other employers, employees and unions involved in redundancies. The decision provides important guidance for employers on the duty to consult with Trade Unions and the timeliness and sufficiency of that consultation. Further it serves as an important reminder of the effect of an employer failing to adhere to its legal obligations.”
The Belfast Area Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse Partnership is made up of agencies, organisations, groups and individuals, to include members of the legal profession, who share a common interest and purpose in improving services and support for victims of domestic violence.
On 27th November 2017, the Partnership launched their new domestic & sexual violence App, named ‘Haven: Belfast’ at an event at Belfast’s City Hall.
The App is free to download and is for anyone experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence within an intimate partner relationship and further provides information to various professionals who may come into contact with domestic abuse in the course of their work.
Life Law NI’s very own Karen Connolly was involved in the Partnership’s Working Group for developing ‘Haven: Belfast’:-
“It has been a pleasure working with the Partnership on the development of ‘Haven: Belfast’. The App provides an array of material on domestic violence, to include useful information on how to recognise the warning signs of an abusive relationship and where to go for support.
There is information contained within the App of the various legal remedies a person has for gaining protection from an abusive relationship. It will hopefully act as a useful tool for clients and legal professionals alike in tackling domestic abuse within our society”.
This Saturday marks the beginning of ‘The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign’.
This international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. It spans from 25th November 2015 ( the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10th December 2015 (Human Rights Day) and is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
Women’s Aid have been part of the movement for a number of years raising awareness of domestic abuse and challenging society’s attitude to the subject.
Women’s Aid’s theme this year is ‘Healthy Relationships’ providing an opportunity for to promote healthy relationships with young people and highlight issues and ‘alarm bells’ in relation to unhealthy relationships that they might encounter in the future.
Over the course of the 16 Days Campaign, Women’s Aid will also be posting ’16 Myths for 16 Days’ on their social media in order to help dispel myths and common misconceptions around domestic abuse. Life Law NI are assisting Women’s Aid this year with raising awareness of the 16 Days Campaign and of domestic violence and the protection afforded by the law in Northern Ireland to victims of abuse.
You can learn more about the 16 days Campaign here
Today is Anti-Slavery Day 2017.
Anti-Slavery Day, provides an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, and encourage government, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals to do what they can to address the problem.
We are very grateful to Rebecca Grounds and Sarah Bruce of Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid for allowing us to share this piece on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland with our followers.
To mark World Mental Health Day earlier this week, Sarah Bruce & Dympna McKeown of Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid wrote the following article which very eloquently looks at the impact that domestic violence and abuse can have on a person’s mental health.
Citizens Advice Northern Ireland launched their Free Debt Advice Service funded by the Money Advice Service in April 2016. In her guest blog for Life Law NI, Gemma Willis, Money Advice Project Manager, Citizens Advice, describes the service and how to get in touch.
The service aims to provide advice and support for those who are struggling to deal with debt. This is now more important than ever when we consider that in our society, many families face new and challenging pressures. One of the greatest of these is debt.
The Citizens Advice Debt Advice Service offers free, confidential and impartial advice and is available throughout Northern Ireland via face to face, telephone and online services. We offer debt advice in each Council area and our freephone helpline is available across Northern Ireland.
Clients can access the service in the following ways:-
By free phone at 0800 028 1881 (Monday – Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm,)
By emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Problem debt is rarely an isolated financial problem without additional consequence. The stress of managing tight finances, dealing with creditors, as well as the stigma associated with problem debt can lead to mental health difficulties, family breakdown and addiction.
Citizens Advice Northern Ireland wants to engage with clients at the earliest opportunity as unfortunately research also shows that individuals will wait more than a year before they seek advice. This leads to further distress and pressure on families.
You can speak directly to a specialist debt adviser at Citizens Advice in Northern Ireland by clicking here. Our webchat service is open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. If outside these hours, you can leave a message and a Debt Adviser will get straight back to you on the following working day.