BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments gave 14 states the go-ahead on Monday to simplify divorce rules for couples of different nationalities.
Such couples will be able to choose which country’s law applies to their divorce, helping them avoid potentially long and expensive proceedings.
It is the first time the EU has used an “enhanced cooperation” clause in its treaties that allows a group of at least nine countries to take joint steps in an area where they cannot secure the agreement of all 27 member states.
“Today’s vote is historic. I am very proud that the Council (of EU governments) took the brave decision to use this legislative tool for the first time. Painful experiences for international couples and their children will soon be made easier,” said Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner.
The executive European Commission said in a statement the 14 countries were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.
The 14 had been frustrated with a failure to make progress with Commission proposals on divorce in 2006. The European Parliament and EU justice ministers have already backed the moves on which the 14 have agreed.
If a couple cannot agree which country’s law should apply to their divorce, judges will have a common formula to decide on their behalf.
The Commission said there were more than 1 million divorces in the EU in 2007, of which 140,000 — 13 percent — involved couples of different nationalities.
Reporting by Timothy Heritage, editing by Mark Trevelyan