Brussels, 6 April 2011
Children in EU to benefit from speedier maintenance payments from abroad
The pain of a divorce or separation is all too often made worse by financial and emotional pressure when one parent lives abroad and refuses to provide financial help. With an estimated 16 million international couples in the EU and 30 million EU citizens living in non-EU countries, the issue of retrieving child maintenance from abroad will grow. For example, a couple living in France get divorced and the father moves to the United States. But will the child still receive the maintenance payments a French court ordered him to pay? Under a new Convention signed by the EU today, the American authorities would cooperate with those in Europe to make sure the father fulfils his obligations and the child still gets support. The Hague Maintenance Convention sets up a worldwide system for recovering child support and other family maintenance payments. It creates a common legal framework between the EU and non-EU countries, so that authorities cooperate in enforcing maintenance claims and debtors can no longer escape by leaving the EU. It also provides for free legal assistance in international child support cases. The Convention complements the EU's own rules on recognising and enforcing maintenance decisions, which will apply from 18 June 2011.
"When families break up, it is often the children who suffer the most," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "The EU already has robust rules to make sure children receive financial support if a parent lives away from them in another EU Member State. The EU’s signing of this international Convention will ensure that children receive the same protection if a parent moves outside the EU. Children’s interests must come first and parents should not be able to avoid their responsibilities by leaving the EU. I urge our international partners to join us and swiftly ratify this Convention."
The new Convention will create a common legal framework between EU and the non-EU countries which ratify it to facilitate the international recovery of family maintenance claims. Since the vast majority of maintenance claims involve children, the Convention is first and foremost a measure to protect children. It creates a worldwide system of cooperation between national authorities, provides for free legal assistance in child support cases, and streamlines procedures for recognition and enforcement of court decisions on maintenance.
The new system will also speed up procedures help to find hiding debtors, which are currently long and complicated. At the international level, the Convention completes the Hague system regarding family law already in place concerning child abduction, parental responsibility and international adoption.
Following today's signature of the Convention by the Hungarian Presidency on behalf of the EU, Member States need to adopt a decision for the EU to formally conclude (or ratify) the Convention. Agreement by justice ministers is expected at a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 9 -10 June 2011. The instrument of ratification could then be deposited by the EU after the designated 18-month implementation period, with the Convention entering info force from 2013.
The United States, Norway and Ukraine have already signed the Convention, while a series of other countries who negotiated the Convention (including Japan, China, Russia, Australia, Canada and Brazil) are also expected to do so once ratification by the EU and US is underway.
There are no international statistics on the number of maintenance claim cases requiring cross-border recovery. However, there are an estimated 16 million international couples in the EU, while around 30 million EU citizens reside in countries outside the European Union. Meanwhile, 1.2 million divorces were recorded in the 27 EU countries during 2007 (the latest figures available). These figures point to a significant problem in terms of handling and enforcing maintenance payments from absent parents who may not be resident in the EU.
The 2007 Hague Maintenance Convention complements the EU internal legislation on maintenance adopted on 18 December 2008: Regulation (EC) No 4/2009 on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations. The Regulation and the Protocol on applicable law will apply between EU Member States from 18 June 2011.
The conclusion of the Convention by the EU will bolster the existing EU rules on the recognition and enforcement of maintenance decisions and administrative cooperation between the central authorities, by creating a harmonised set of rules within the EU with respect to third countries which will become Contracting Parties to the Convention.
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