Rules for divorce for international couples

When a married couple decides to separate permanently, one or both spouses will generally start 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 have different nationalities, have lived in different EU countries during their marriage or no longer live in the same EU country, they need to know which court will hear their case and which country's law applies to them.

EU law provides for common rules to work out with which court international spouses should file an application for divorce, and some Member States have adopted common rules to work out which law the court should apply, while others still use their national law to determine this. 

EU regulation on international divorce

EU rules are in place to work out with which court spouses should file an application for divorce. Under the regulation concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, a divorce pronounced in one EU country is easily recognised in other EU countries.

To bring legal certainty to international couples wishing to divorce, there is also a regulation (pdf) in place to help spouses agree on the national law that should apply to their divorce. If the couple does not agree on which law to pick, the court or authority responsible determines which national law should apply to the divorce.

Countries where the regulation applies

Currently, the rules on the law applicable to divorce and legal separation apply in 16 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain. The regulation will also apply in Estonia as of February 2018.

EU countries that do not participate in this regulation continue to apply their own rules to determine which national law should apply to a divorce.