Divorce and legal separation
When a married couple decides to separate permanently, either one of the spouses or both together, will generally institute divorce proceedings.
In most countries divorce is decided by a court, and that court's judgment dissolves the marriage.
When the two spouses wishing to divorce are of different nationalities, have lived in different EU countries during their marriage or no longer live in the same EU country, they need to know to which courts or authorities they must apply and where these courts are located.
In the EU, there are rules for working out to which court an application for divorce must be filed when the couple separates. The rules also allow a divorce pronounced in one country of the EU to be more easily recognised in another EU country and have effect there.
The rules are contained in the Regulation concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, which entered into application on 1 March 2005.
As it is a Regulation, its provisions are directly applicable, which means that anyone can rely on them in the courts.
The Regulation does not determine which substantive national law the courts must apply. At the end of 2010, the EU therefore adopted a Regulation on the law applicable to divorce and legal separation , which will bring more legal certainty to international couples wishing to divorce.
The new rules will apply in 14 EU countries to start with (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) and will enter into force on 21 June 2012. EU countries that do not participate in this initiative will continue to apply their own national applicable law.
Besides the separation of the spouses, any divorce will lead to a reorganisation of the relationship between each of them and any children they have in common.
It will also lead to a division of the assets owned in common by the spouses, and if necessary to the payment of a contribution or maintenance by one spouse to another, or to support the children.