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The EU Legal Affairs Committee has today unanimously approved new rules that will allow the residents of 14 participating Member States to choose which country's law should govern their divorce.
EU justice ministers will approve the new rules tomorrow and will be put before the European Parliament in December. They are being agreed via a new procedure for "enhanced co-operation" among EU Member States, in which 14 Member States are so far taking part. The UK is not participating in the arrangement.
The new EU regulations on divorce and legal separation will allow international couples to choose which law applies if they are to separate, so long as it is the law of a country to which they have a close connection. The new rules also clarify which law is to apply should the spouses fail to agree on a choice.
The text aims to provide clear and comprehensive rules for the 14 participating Member States: Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia. Other EU Member States may join at any time. These rules would take effect 18 months after they are approved by the Member States.
The rules should provide greater certainty as to the law, predictability and flexibility, and prevent a "rush to court", in which one spouse applies for divorce before the other so as to ensure that the proceedings are governed by a given law which is more favourable to them.
The new rules won't oblige the courts of a participating Member State whose law does not provide for divorce, or does not deem the marriage in question valid for the purposes of divorce proceedings, to pronounce a divorce.
The regulation also will not apply to the legal capacity of natural persons, the existence, validity or recognition of a marriage, the annulment of a marriage, the name of the spouses, the property consequences of the marriage, parental responsibility, maintenance obligations and trusts or successions.
According to Commission and Council figures, there are around 122 million marriages in the EU. There were over one million divorces in the 27 EU Member States in 2007, of which 140,000 (13%) had an "international" element.