International families

Family law is the competence of EU countries, and EU rules apply only in cross-border cases.

Today, it is easier than ever before to live, work or study in another EU country. In a world where people are increasingly mobile, there are more and more families and couples made up of people from different EU countries. Also, the number of couples including a person from outside the EU is increasing. There are currently around 16 million international couples in the EU.

Inevitably, when such families break up, family members often end up living in different countries. This can be a difficult situation, especially for parents and children.

Examples of these difficulties are

  • the question at which court a divorce application should be filed and which country's law is applicable to the divorce
  • the issue of child custody across borders
  • the enforcement of maintenance obligations abroad
  • succession issues in the event of death

EU-level family law legislation

Although family law remains the competence of EU countries, the EU can legislate on family law if there are cross-border implications. A special legislative procedure is in place for such situations: all EU countries have to agree (unanimity) and the European Parliament must be consulted.