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Easier divorces for cross-border couples

12 July 2010, 19:16 CET

European Union governments gave 14 EU countries the green light to push forward with rules allowing international couples to select which country's law would apply to their divorce. The new rules, which still must be approved, will allow couples to avoid emotionally and financially costly proceedings.

This is the first time in the EU's history that countries have used the “enhanced cooperation” mechanism, which allows a group of at least nine nations to implement measures if all 27 Member States fail to reach agreement. The enhanced cooperation will apply in the 14 participating EU countries for now, but others can join at any time.

"Today's vote is historic. I am very proud that the Council took the brave decision to use this legislative tool for the first time. Painful experiences for international couples and their children will soon be made easier,’’ said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. “This historic step shows that the EU can react quickly to real human problems. Working together, we can provide comfort and improve legal certainty for international couples when handling difficult situations. 14 Member States is a good start; I hope that all countries will join so that more citizens can benefit."

The process to start the enhanced cooperation procedure can start immediately. The 14 participating countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) will now negotiate and then vote on the Commission proposal for a Regulation that contains the details of which rules apply in cases of international divorces. The 14 countries must unanimously approve the rules and consult the European Parliament before the Regulation can enter into force.

The proposal aims to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. International couples will be able to agree which law would apply to their divorce or legal separation. In case the couple cannot agree, judges would have a common formula for deciding which country's law applies. Couples would have more legal certainty, predictability and flexibility. This would help protect spouses and their children from complicated, drawn-out and painful procedures.

The new solution will help couples of different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country. The need for EU action is clear: There were more than 1 million divorces in the 27 Member States in 2007, of which 140,000 (13%) had an "international" element.

The European Parliament gave its consent for the enhanced cooperation measure on 16 June 2010. EU Justice Ministers endorsed it on 4 June.

The European Commission proposed the measure on 24 March 2010 in response to a request by nine Member States that were frustrated with the Council’s failure to move forward on a 2006 Commission proposal (Greece was initially part of the plan and later withdrew its request). Since then, five additional countries – Germany, Belgium, Latvia, Malta and Portugal – asked to be part of the EU action.

Other countries that want to participate can do so at any time. Under the Lisbon Treaty, they must first notify the Council and the Commission.


Under the EU Treaties, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more countries to move forward on a measure that is important, but blocked by a small minority of Member States. Other EU countries keep the right to join when they want (Article 331, Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).

The Commission first proposed helping international couples in 2006, but the plan did not get the required unanimous support of EU governments. The proposed Regulation has no effect on national divorce or marriage laws.

The Commission proposals

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