The European Union proposed scheme for harmonized divorce rules for international couples is moving forward, though without Irish participation.
The EU’s Legal Affairs Committee has unanimously backed the proposal and has recommended that the full Parliament should authorize the twelve Member States that have so far agreed to the plan to start to implement it.
The proposal would allow international couples (couples of different nationalities, couples living apart in different EU countries or living together in a country other than their home country) 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 (such as long-term residence or nationality). For example, it would allow a Franco-German couple living in Belgium to agree whether French or German law applies to their divorce.
If spouses are unable to agree on which law should apply, then this will be decided on the basis of the law of the country where the spouses have their common habitual residence, or failing that, where they had their most recent common habitual residence (provided one still resides there), or failing that, the law of the spouses’ common nationality, or failing that, the law of the court before which the matter is brought.
The scheme is the first in which a core group of European countries are applying a procedure to move forward together in a common EU initiative without all member states taking part. The countries taking part are Spain, Italy, Hungary, Luxembourg, Austria, Romania, Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Belgium, Latvia, Malta and Portugal. The recently enacted Lisbon Treaty makes it easier for countries to adopt this procedure.
The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, explained the Irish refusal to join the “core twelve” countries by saying that, “If we were to participate in this, it would mean that we would have to implement foreign divorce laws in our own courts and that’s not something I think we want.”
The United Kingdom and Sweden have also announced that they will not join the scheme.