EU Puts Forward Divorce Rules for Bulgarians, ForeignersSociety | March 18, 2010, Thursday // 12:13| views
The Commission proposal, to be published on Wednesday, is being spearheaded by Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship – who has made unifying rules on divorce one of her priorities. Photo by EPA/BGNES
The European Commission is expected next week to propose rules on divorce that would initially apply in only ten member states of the European Union, including Bulgaria, the online edition European Voice reported.
The Commission's proposal would provide domestic courts in the ten countries with criteria to determine which national law should apply in international divorce cases. It would affect couples of different nationalities, living apart in different countries, or living together in a country other than their home country.
The aim is to prevent ‘litigation shopping' – where spouses pursue a divorce in the jurisdiction where they feel they will get the most advantageous settlement. The ten countries involved are Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.
This measure would be the first-ever use of the European Union's ‘enhanced co-operation' mechanism, a tool of last resort that allows a group of member states to set standards within the EU framework, but without engaging all member states.
The Commission proposal, to be published on Wednesday (24 March), is being spearheaded by Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship – who has made unifying rules on divorce one of her priorities.
She told MEPs at her hearing in January: “Ten member states have asked for it and I will go for it.” She said she would prefer EU-wide legislation, but would make a proposal for enhanced co-operation given that this was at present the only feasible option. She expressed the hope that one day “it will be 20 member states and finally 27 member states,” but in the meantime, “let's go ahead and let's not wait”.
The Commission estimates that every year around 170,000 divorces in the EU – some 20% of cases – involve international couples. An official said that EU-wide rules, or at least the partial harmonisation created through enhanced co-operation, were a pressing matter for children caught up in such divorces. Preventing litigation shopping is also seen by the Commission as reinforcing gender equality, since typically the weaker partner loses out.
The proposal will be similar to an earlier, failed attempt by the Commission to introduce EU-wide rules on divorce applicable to international marriages, known as ‘Rome III'. That was dropped in 2008 in the face of member state opposition, notably from Sweden, which feared that its own liberal divorce laws would be undermined if Swedish courts were obliged to apply foreign family law.
Subsequently, the ten member states requested authorisation to use enhanced co-operation on the matter, which requires a proposal by the Commission. Sweden has ruled out participating in enhanced co-operation on divorce, but it will not oppose its use by other member states. The proposal will have to be backed by a qualified majority of the EU's 27 member states and by the European Parliament.
Enhanced co-operation was introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam, which took effect in 1999, and its rules have been simplified in the Lisbon treaty.
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