A British mother who fought the Sharia courts in Dubai for access to her son faces having to sell her home – after a UK judge ordered her to pay nearly £100,000 towards her ex-husband’s legal costs.
Afsana Lachaux, a former policy aide to Gordon Brown who now works for The Princes Trust, has spent eight years battling for custody of Louis, her youngest child, after the Emirate state granted a divorce and branded her an unfit mother.
She currently sees him for six hours a year in an approved contact centre.
But despite the Court of Appeal in France ruling that the divorce was invalid and ‘manifestly discriminatory’, the Dubai decision has been upheld by the British family courts.
In a ruling described as ‘unconscionable’ by a member of her legal team, devastated Ms Lachaux has now been ordered to pay her former partner Bruno’s legal costs of £93,867.96 – and may face bankruptcy if she does not pay it in full.
Afsana Lachaux, a former policy aide to Gordon Brown who now works for The Princes Trust, has spent eight years battling for custody of Louis, her youngest child, (pictured together) after the Emirate state granted a divorce and branded her an unfit mother
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Afsana, 52, said the decision made her feel like she was ‘drowning every day’ and the only option was to sell her house.
‘I’ve lost my child, I’ve lost my career and now I could lose my home,’ she said.
‘I could lose my home and I am terrified.’
Ms Lachaux’s ordeal began in 2012 when she was living in Dubai with her then-husband, French aerospace engineer Bruno Lachaux, and one-year-old Louis.
The couple had married in London but their relationship had broken down. Their subsequent divorce in Dubai was based on its sharia legal system.
Official translations from the proceedings stated she had not ‘obeyed her husband’ and was a negligent mother because Louis had eczema and she had struggled to breastfeed.
Despite French Courts’ ruling, however the British family courts concluded that overall the Dubai proceedings had been fair and the decision to award Bruno sole custody would probably have been the same in the UK.
‘I was in a very dark place at that time. It felt like my son had been ripped from my womb,’ she recalls.
Ms Lachaux’s ordeal began in 2012 when she was living in Dubai with her then-husband, French aerospace engineer Bruno Lachaux, and one-year-old Louis
The divorce had to be ratified back in Bruno’s home country of France and, last year, its Supreme Court ruled it was invalid and ‘manifestly discriminatory’ as it applied non-reciprocal grounds for divorce imposed by Emirati law on women only.
The ruling encouraged Ms Lachaux, who has two older sons from a previous marriage, to seek a similar judgement in the UK, hoping that it could result in her gaining greater access to Louis.
But Justice Nicholas Mostyn instead backed the legal outcome in Dubai, and the Court of Appeal in London agreed.
Justice Mostyn made severe criticisms of both parties in the case but, in a highly unusual move in a case involving access to children, he also ruled that Afsana would have to pay her ex-husband’s legal costs – with eight per cent interest added every day.
It came even though Ms Lachaux’s legal team argued that such an award was unreasonable given she then had no job and had been suffering from PTSD.
‘The judge found I had a mental health illness, found I’d been traumatised and knew I had no money. How is that right?,’ she said.
Human rights lawyer David Haigh, a campaigner for human rights in the UAE who has been helping her with her case, said: ‘The costs imposed upon her by the Family Court – and remember, we’re talking about the Family Court – are just extortionate.
‘In upholding the Dubai judgement, the courts here weren’t even required to conduct a full hearing.
‘To expect her to pay fees totalling nearly £100,000 is unconscionable and the damage that it’s done to her and her family is profound.’
Ms Lachaux, who was awarded the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize for her work campaigning for justice and the protection of women, is now on anti-depressants and sleeping pills to help her cope with the strain. She has launched a crowdfunding campaign to meet the court demand, and is determined to raise awareness of the way British courts treat people with mental health issues.
‘I also want to shine a light on the judicial system and how they treat ordinary mums,’ she said.
‘The judges have to be held accountable. There’s no understanding of the daily reality of women like myself.
‘If payday loan sharks and finance companies and credit card companies aren’t allowed to punish people with mental health in this way, why is the court allowed to do that?
‘The law says ability to pay isn’t an excuse and I’m still trying to challenge that.’