Having joined the Laurus team at the beginning of 2021, Senior Associate Jeetesh Patel brings a new type of expertise to our Family team. We had a virtual sit down with Jeetesh to talk all things international surrogacy and adoption, discussing the work he does in building families, easing parents’ anxiety and getting babies home safely.
Building families is such an interesting niche in Family law – having been a family lawyer for all of your career, what drew you to surrogacy and adoption specifically?
I started my career doing traditional family law – divorce and the related financial and children work – but I took on more and more surrogacy and adoption work because it was an area of law where I could assist in making families as opposed to supporting people whose relationships have unfortunately broken down.
I came into the practice area since a lot of my friends, both gay couples and straight, were having troubles conceiving – they were exploring surrogacy as an option and I started offering them guidance. I found it so rewarding, and that’s how things started off.
Like you say, it must be lovely to be able to help build families – but on the other hand, it must be a real emotional struggle when families run into legal issues during the process. Do you have a number one piece of advice if intended parents run into an unexpected legal issue?
My advice to anyone embarking on adoption or surrogacy, even before they sign any paperwork or commit to the process, is to first obtain initial advice from a specialist solicitor. This is so you have a clear idea of what you need to be looking out for and doing – having the advice before you embark on the journey makes things a lot easier and allows you to focus all your energy onto your child, as opposed to finalising the legalities.
I am more than happy to assist families who have made contact with me when they’ve reached a crisis point – but initial advice does make all the difference in avoiding this for those who are just starting out on their journey.
What would you say to intended parents who see stories such as Ollie Locke’s in the media, where families run into legal complications, and might be a little put off, or nervous about the legal side of the journey?
The legal issues can be complicated – but again it goes back to that initial advice. And if you’re working with a lawyer throughout, then it will be their responsibility to tackle those issues, and explain them in a way you can understand. It’s their responsibility to get your paperwork in place, and equally, it’s their responsibility to foresee any problems and make you aware of them straight away. They’ll help you minimise any problems before they arise, which is why it’s so important to work together continuously.
The media is often quite vague about what we mean by ‘legal issues’ when it comes to surrogacy – what are some of the most common problems you resolve for your clients?
What you’re dealing with, for example with Ollie Locke’s arrangement, are the legal issues in America, where he is entering into the surrogacy arrangement, and equally the legal issues that arise in England, when the child is born and the family want to return to the UK.
So, we would work with the other country – in this example the US – and need to understand their surrogacy laws, processes and regulations, and communicate this all to the client. We would then be supporting them with the English issues, with immigration laws and returning back to the UK.
This might be a difficult question – as you probably feel like you can’t choose favourites – but do you have a particularly memorable client story you could share?
I do have a memorable one, in the sense that it started out as a total nightmare, but it ended up having a happy ending! Basically, the clients were British citizens, but the Husband was also an Indian national. So, the surrogacy arrangement took place in India, and the Husband was the parent with the genetic connection to the child. The Wife didn’t have a genetic connection, which meant the child had Indian nationality when he was born. This meant there was a problem with getting the family back to the UK in terms of getting their travel documents sorted out.
In the end, we issued an application to the High Court for a Parental Order, and we joined the Home Office as part of that application. That way, the Judge was able to grant the family the Parental Order, and say to the Home Office that they simply had to find a way to bring the family home. The entire process meant that the family ended being stranded in India for over a year – so had they taken that legal advice at the beginning, they could have cut out about 12 months of that 18 month period.
I imagine it can be such an emotional strain on clients when they run into these unexpected issues! What’s your strategy for supporting someone in that situation?
Yes – it is a difficult time, especially if you’re stranded in a different country with a little child, and you were expecting to pick them up and come back immediately. You’ve got your mortgage back home, your job back home, that you need to get back to – and suddenly that all goes out of the window and you find yourself extremely anxious.
So, what I do in those circumstances is take responsibility – I take that anxiety away from the family so they can concentrate on their child. If necessary, I can contact their employers to explain their situation – that they’re not asking for extended leave to sit on a beach and sip cocktails! And I assist in things like connecting them with lawyers that we trust in the foreign country, setting up a Guardianship Order, and we look at any practicalities that need to be taken care of to help them feel confident everything is in hand.
You can read more about Jeetesh’s work and credentials here. If you would like to speak to Jeetesh and the team about a legal issue, surrogacy, adoption or otherwise, please get in touch on the number below.
Speak to a lawyer — You can reach our Family team on 020 3146 6300 or email@example.com
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