Greece is the 16th EU member state to adopt a rule which allows couples of different nationality who wish to separate, the opportunity to select under which country’s laws their divorce proceedings will be conducted. The European Commission approved Greece’s decision to join the 15 countries already participating in the EU ruling.
The new rules, which have been in place since June 2012, were enacted after an initial decision by EU member states to promote integration through the Enhanced Cooperation procedure. Enhanced Cooperation was introduced by the Treaty of Nice in 2001, but was not used until the current Commission’s term of office. It allows a group of at least nine member states to implement measures even if all 28 member states fail to reach an agreement.
In the case of divorce rules, this made it possible for 14 countries to implement the measure in 2011, subsequently joined by Lithuania in 2012 and now by Greece. The regulation aims to give couples legal certainty and prevent a “rush to court” and searching for the most favorable legislation, while at the same time avoiding emotionally and financially costly proceedings.
“The EU rules on cross-border divorce broke new ground for European integration. They showed the way ahead in areas where a lack of unanimity was a stumbling block to progress, turning the legal innovations of the Lisbon Treaty into a practical reality,” stated Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner. “It is very encouraging to see that yet another state has asked to participate in the Enhanced Cooperation that helps international couples going through a divorce. While free movement of people enables men and women from all over Europe to meet and fall in love, we have to ensure that there is legal certainty in case of a divorce,” she added.
According to the Commission, the Regulation on the divorce law aims to provide assistance to weaker partners during divorce disputes. International couples are able to agree in advance which law will apply in the event of divorce or legal separation. If the couple cannot agree, judges will have a common method for deciding which country’s law applies. The Regulation, which entered into force on June 21, 2012, has no effect on national divorce or marriage laws. It does not require the adoption of rules affecting family law in member states.
With almost 1 million divorces in the EU in 2009 (according to Eurostat), these rules will help couples of different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country and protect them from complicated, time-consuming and painful legal procedures.