Brussels, 3 December 2010
EU Justice Ministers back new rules to bring legal certainty to couples in cross-border divorces
EU Member States today endorsed rules that will bring legal certainty to international couples wishing to divorce. The new legislation will give a choice as to which country's rules apply in case of divorce for couples with different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country. It aims to reduce forum shopping and to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. It marks the first time in history that EU countries use the so-called “enhanced cooperation” mechanism, which allows nine or more Member States to move forward on a measure that is important, but which nevertheless is blocked on the basis of the normal voting rules. Today’s political agreement comes just eight months after the Commission responded to a request by nine Member States to propose legislation (see IP/10/347). Once in place, the rules will apply in 14 EU countries to start with – the remaining countries will have the right to join in the future.
"The end of a marriage is a tough enough experience for any family, but international couples can face added complications because of a lack of clarity in national rules," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "Today's agreement will make life easier for couples facing international divorces, reduce stress, and help to protect the weaker spouse. It is also a milestone for EU cooperation in difficult legal areas, which shows that we can still deliver pragmatic solutions to problems in everyday life."
After today's political agreement among EU Justice Ministers meeting in the Council, the European Parliament will give its opinion on the legislation before it can enter into force. The Council is expected to formally adopt the new legislation before the end of the year. It will enter into force 18 months after adoption.
The new rules will apply in 14 Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia). Countries that want to join the existing enhanced cooperation can do so at any time. Under the Lisbon Treaty, countries that want to participate must notify the Council and the Commission, and the Commission takes the necessary decision.
After the Commission made its proposal on 24 March (IP/10/347), the European Parliament approved the enhanced cooperation procedure on 16 June 2010 (IP/10/747). EU governments adopted the Council Decision authorising enhanced cooperation on 12 July 2010 (IP/10/917). Today's endorsement by EU Justice Ministers concerns the Commission proposal for a Regulation that includes the detailed rules that will apply to international divorces.
Under the Commission proposal, couples will be able to agree during the marriage which law would apply to their divorce. This would give them more legal certainty, predictability and flexibility and would help to protect spouses and their children from complicated, drawn-out and painful procedures (see MEMO/10/100).
The proposal is also designed to give international couples more control over their separation and protect weaker spouses from being put at an unfair disadvantage in divorce proceedings. Courts will have a common formula for deciding which country's law applies when couples cannot agree themselves. It has no effect on Member States' ability to define marriage.
EU rules governing enhanced cooperation say countries that do not join a request can join at any time after it becomes law, pending a positive analysis by the Commission (Article 331, Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).
The Commission first proposed helping international couples in 2006, but the plan (so-called Rome III Regulation) did not get the required unanimous support of EU governments.
For more information
Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship: