Cross-border EU divorce rules given go-ahead by MEPs

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Divorce might become easier for international couples as MEPs yesterday (1 June) backed an arrangement that would allow international couples in 12 member states to choose which law applies.

The European Parliament's legal affairs committee has given the green light to 12 member states to cooperate in divorce and legal separation law.

The decision, which has to be endorsed by a plenary vote scheduled for June or July, would allow international couples of different nationalities or living together in a country other than their home country to choose the legal system under which they want to finalise their separation or divorce.

According to EU data, each year there are over 350,000 cross-border marriages and 170,000 divorces, i.e. 20% of all EU divorces. In 2007, the member states with the biggest share of international divorces were Germany (34,000), France (20,500) and the UK (19,500).

"We are giving couples more freedom and choice on their divorce, which is a difficult moment in their lives," said rapporteur Tadeusz Zwiefka (European People's Party, Poland), at the committee meeting.

Faced with resistance from some member states – including Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic – the Commission has decided to go ahead with a group of vanguard countries (EURACTIV 24/03/10). 

The twelve countries are acting under so-called 'enhanced co-operation', which enables some member states to move forward on legislation that does not have the unanimous agreement of the EU's 27 member states.

The countries participating on the divorce legislation include Austria, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Latvia. Other EU member states may join later if they wish to.

"Thousands of couples find themselves in difficult personal situations because national legal systems have so far failed to provide clear answers," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in March. "This is why we decided to move ahead today," she said, before presenting her proposals in Brussels on Wednesday (24 March).

EU ministers will seek political agreement on the co-operation at a Justice Council on Friday (4 June)

Former Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini proposed to harmonise divorce procedures for cross-border couples in 2006 (EURACTIV 19/07/06).

However, his plans met with tough opposition from some member states. Although 20 or so countries favour a clearer legislative set-up, the proposal is still blocked in the EU Council of Ministers.

Unanimity among the 27 member states is required to pass legislation on the matter. But Sweden is still opposed to it, while Finland, the Czech Republic and Poland are sceptical for different reasons.

  • 4 June: EU Justice and Home Affairs Council.

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