Rules for cross-border divorces

Wanna split up with your Italian wife? Well now you can - and it is even getting easier. The Commission is pushing for more legal clarity for international couples when they are getting a divorce.

How did we get here?

Since we in Europe are living in an area without internal borders this leads to a lot more transnational couples (e.g. with both partners from different countries and/or them living in yet another country; currently around 16 Mio. international couples in the EU). Right now the question of “Who gets what?”, when a transnational couple is getting separated, is a huge headache.

To throw another number in the ring: Legal trials in different countries, complex cases and all the resulting legal fees cost an estimated €1.1 billion a year. This is why the Commission already proposed new legislation in 2011 to make it easier for international couples (either married or registered partners) to know which courts had authority to deal with their property rights and which law to apply.


Why is this important for me?

Well - this is definitely not a fun topic to think about when you are getting married but it is still nice to know that someone (aka the EU) is taking care of the nitty-gritty details in case things are going pear-shaped for your - once rosy - marriage. Imagine a Franco-German couple living in Belgium: They will be able to choose in advance the law of their habitual residence (Belgian law) or that of their nationality (French or German law), making it easier for them to navigate in their preferred legal system and therefore offering them more predictability and legal certainty when it comes to a potential break-up. Which is nice!.


What's the content?

With the two proposals for … wait for it … “regulations on matrimonial property regimes and the property consequences of registered partnerships” the Commission wants to achieve a couple of things:

  1. clarify which national court is competent to help the couple manage their property or distribute it between them in case of divorce, separation or death;
  2. clarify which law shall apply when the laws of several countries could potentially apply to the case (e.g. French-German couple living in Brussels makes potentially three different legal systems that could apply);
  3. facilitate the recognition and enforcement of a judgment in one Member State on property matters given in another Member State.

The regulations don't touch the institutions of marriages and partnerships, which remain matters defined by national law. For example, nothing obliges participating states to provide for registered partnerships if they don't have it in their laws.


What's happening with this legislation in the future?

So this is a superinteresting case - because this is no regular law, which applies to all EU countries! Some EU countries couldn't agree on accepting these two proposals - so those 18 countries who could are now doing it ALONE in a so-called “enhanced cooperation”. If the rest wants to join at some point - they can. Estonia already announced to take part. But for now it is those 18 countries: Sweden, Belgium, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Luxembourg, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria and Finland.

Plus: This law is not decided by Parliament and Council together (as it is the case for almost everything else) but this is a so-called Council Regulation. Meaning: The Council can basically decide whatever they want and pass the bill (after they ASK the European Parliament for an opinion but not being obliged to actually listen to it). But: The Parliament still has to say YES to the funky “Enhanced Cooperation” Deal.

The Council agreed on its position, the responsible Legal Affairs Committee in the Parliament gave its opinion and the EP plenary confirmed it by a formal vote. So the regulations were formally adopted by the 18 participating member states at the end of June 2016 and published in the Official Journal of the EU on 8 July 2016. They will apply in 30 months and 20 days after their publication.


Related Bills:

Minimum standards for children accused in court

Improving the exchange of information on criminals

New visa rules for EU travellers

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