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A lawyer and a man shaking hands © Paty Wingrove, fotolia

People in the EU have become increasingly mobile. It is now easier for them to study, work or live in another EU country than ever before.

In today's world, where people are increasingly mobile, the number of families made up of citizens of different EU countries, or of EU citizens and third-country nationals, is increasing. There are currently around 16 million international couples in the EU.

Inevitably when such families break up, family members, including children, often end up living in different countries, a situation which is fraught with difficulties from a family law point of view.

These difficulties include, for example:

  • the question, which courts have jurisdiction to hear a divorce application and which law is applicable to such a divorce;
  • the issue of cross-border rights of access to children;
  • the enforcement of maintenance obligations abroad;
  • in the sad case of a death, succession issues.

Although the substantive family law remains under the sole competence of EU countries, the EU is empowered to take measures concerning family law with cross-border implications on the basis of a special legislative procedure: all EU countries should agree (unanimity) and the European Parliament must be consulted.

With the aim of offering EU citizens legal certainty in cross border family law situations, various essential instruments have been adopted by the EU over recent years and important draft instruments are currently under negotiations.