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Last update: 11-07-2007
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Divorce - Community law

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Divorce in Europe

Since 1 March 2001, divorces granted in the European Union have been more readily recognised between Member States.

When two people of different nationalities or two people who no longer live in the same Member State wish to divorce, they need to know to which courts or authorities they must apply and where.

In 2000, the Council adopted a regulation that determines:

  • which Member State's courts have jurisdiction to rule on divorce proceedings,
  • how divorces granted in one Member State are recognised in the others

This Regulation concerns the dissolution of marriage. It also covers decisions on parental responsibility for the children of both spouses, if such decisions were taken at the time of the divorce. More information on this subject can be found under "Parental Responsibility". It does not, however, relate to matters such as maintenance or the division of property.

The Regulation has been replaced by Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003, which entered into application 1 March 2005. The new Regulation did not modify the rules on matrimonial matters and applies to divorce judgments given after that date. It also applies to legal separations and annulments. As it is a regulation, its provisions are directly applicable, which means that anyone can rely on them in the courts.

It is not applicable in Denmark.

The Regulation does not determine which national law the courts should apply. In some cases, the courts of one Member State must apply the laws of another state. This depends on the national law of each of the Member States.

To obtain more information on this subject, click on the flags of the Member States concerned.

Which courts have jurisdiction to rule on these matters?

Courts have jurisdiction to give a divorce ruling:

  • in the Member State in which the spouses habitually reside;
  • in the Member State in which the respondent habitually resides;
  • if the spouses no longer live in the same Member State, in the Member State in which they habitually resided last, provided that one of them still lives there;
  • in the case of a joint application, in the Member State in which one or other of the spouses resides;
  • in some circumstances, in the Member State in which the petitioner habitually resides;
  • in the Member State of which the spouses are nationals.

The parties may not choose a court other than those listed above.


Should a case be brought before the courts of more than one Member State, the court before which the case was first brought is considered to have jurisdiction. In other words, if a case is brought in a particular court, that court still has jurisdiction even if the case is subsequently brought in another court. But the other courts should decline to accept jurisdiction.

Recognition of decisions

  • A divorce granted in one Member State shall be automatically recognised by the other Member States without any special procedures.
  • However, any interested party may ask the courts not to recognise a divorce judgment. This could arise, for example, where such recognition is clearly contrary to public policy or, in some circumstances, where the decision contradicts another decision or where recognition was given in default of appearance if the person in default was not served with the document which instituted the proceedings in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable that person to arrange for his or her defence.
  • As a result of this recognition of divorce decisions, no special procedure is required for the updating of civil status documents in another Member State. The request should be made on the basis of a final divorce (or legal separation or annulment) judgment which may not be appealed under the law of the Member State concerned.

New proposal on applicable law and jurisdiction in divorce matters

Reference documents

« Divorce - General information | Community law - General information »


Last update: 11-07-2007

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