Cross-border EU divorce rules made easy in 14 member states

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International couples living in 14 EU countries will be able to choose which country's jurisdiction should apply to their divorce as the European Parliament finally backed proposals tabled by the EU executive four years ago.

The Parliament, meeting in plenary session in Strasbourg, gave the green light yesterday (16 June) for some EU countries to enhance cooperation on divorce law.

The proposal is expected to lessen the burden on children and protect weaker partners during cross-border divorce disputes.

The approval follows a request from nine EU member states, which wanted to move forward alone after a 2006 proposal by the European Commission had become deadlocked in the Council.

"The vote shows that there is a strong spirit of cooperation in the EU since the Lisbon Treaty took effect," said Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship.

In 2007, more than a million divorces took place across the EU's 27 member states, of which 140,000 (13%) had an international dimension.

International couples will be able to agree which law should apply to their divorce or legal separation. Should the couple prove unable to agree, judges will refer to common rules when deciding which country's law applies.

Couples will have more legal certainty, predictability and flexibility, said MEPs, which should help protect spouses and their children from complicated, drawn-out and painful procedures.

"If it weren't for enhanced cooperation, the states that are willing to tighten their cooperation and integration in the field of law applicable to international divorces and legal separations would not be able to do so for a long time," said Polish centre-right MEP Tadeusz Zwiefka (European People's Party), the Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier.

"The issue concerns European citizens and that is why we find it necessary to establish common rules that would resolve their legal problems when confronted with cross-border divorce or separation proceedings. The scale of the problem is worrying taking into account that 13% of all marriages end in divorce," underlined Zwiefka.

The European Parliament will now be consulted by the Council on the common rules.

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 has continually been blocked in the EU Council of Ministers.

Sweden is still opposed to it, while Finland, the Czech Republic and Poland are sceptical for different reasons.

The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, meanwhile, has allowed progress to continue, as its 'enhanced cooperation' mechanism allows a group of member states to proceed with EU legislation where previously unanimity was required.

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