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Brussels, 20 December 2010

European Commission proposals to bring legal certainty to couples in cross-border marriages approved by EU ministers

The European Commission’s proposals that will bring legal certainty to international couples wishing to divorce were formally adopted today by EU ministers. The approval followed a political agreement on 3 December 2010 (IP/10/1653). 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. The European Parliament gave a positive opinion on the legislation last week. The rules will now enter into force in 18 months.

Today’s approval in Council comes just nine months after the Commission responded to a request by nine Member States to propose legislation to ease the process for cross-border divorces (see IP/10/347). The initiative also aims to reduce forum shopping and to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes.

The rules will apply in 14 EU countries to start with (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia) and will enter into force in 18 months time. 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.

It marks the first time in history that EU countries conclude legislation under the “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.


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 final approval by EU 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 Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner:

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