EU moves to clarify divorce laws

The European Commission has announced plans this week to “harmonise” divorce laws in an attempt to stop disputes over which country’s courts should handle disputes.

The proposed law will enable couples to choose which country’s laws apply to their divorce but in default of agreement the domestic courts will be issued with criteria to determine which national law should apply in cases involving couples with links to more than one EU member state.

Ten EU countries from the 27 nations – Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia and Spain want to take advantage of a never before used 1997 treaty provision to simplify that process. It would allow the countries to develop the system of “enhanced cooperation” and needs approval from EU justice ministers to draw up such a deal.

Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship has made unifying rules on divorce one of her priorities. She said that “thousands of couples find themselves in difficult personal situations because national legal systems have so far failed to provide clear answers. In many cases, children and the weaker spouse suffer. I want them to have clear rules so that they always know where they stand”

With over 140,000 mixed nationality EU couples filing for divorce every year, many are faced with a legal maze created by divorce laws that vary from country to country across the EU. Such proposal is designed to streamline the process, possibly reduce legal fees and discourage “divorce shopping” where one party seeks out a jurisdiction that favours him or her.

We have seen the damaging effect upon Sara Pell recently reported in the Telegraph when the English High Court ruled the French courts should have jurisdiction to deal with that claim which has left her with potentially no claim upon his substantial pension fund.

This could affect many British expats living in those ten countries if approved.