Page last updated at 13:54 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

EU moves to clarify divorce laws

Couple in silhouette
Legal costs and complications add to the acrimony of divorce

The legal minefield of divorce in cases where spouses come from different EU countries may become less complicated under new draft legislation.

The European Commission has proposed a law enabling couples to choose which country's laws apply to their divorce.

The idea is to prevent international "divorce shopping" in which one spouse gains an unfair advantage.

Ten EU countries - excluding the UK - want the new rules. Euro MPs and EU governments still have to debate them.

The rules can become law under an EU mechanism called "enhanced co-operation", even if the law is not approved by all 27 member states.

"Enhanced co-operation" allows nine or more countries to push ahead with a measure they deem important but that is blocked by a small minority of EU states. Other countries can join them at a later date.

Pressure for clear rules

The Commission says a common formula would establish which country's rules would apply to international couples seeking a divorce.

It gives the example of a Swedish-Lithuanian couple living in Italy, who could ask an Italian court to apply Swedish or Lithuanian law.

In cases where spouses disagree about the jurisdiction, the courts will be able to decide which country's law applies in their case.

Each year there are around 300,000 international marriages in the EU, the Commission says.

The 10 member states requesting the new rules are: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

"Thousands of couples find themselves in difficult personal situations because national legal systems have so far failed to provide clear answers," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

"In many cases, children and the weaker spouse suffer. I do not want people in the EU to be left to manage complicated international divorces alone. I want them to have clear rules so that they always know where they stand."

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