European & International News

European Commission sheds light on problems of international families and consults on further action

[Press release from the European Commission, Strasbourg, 15 April 2014] A report published by the European Commission today highlights legal problems that international couples (spouses from different nationalities) still face across Europe when they try to resolve cross-border disputes concerning their marriage or the custody of their children. The growing mobility of citizens within the European Union has led to an increasing number of families whose members are of different nationalities, live in different EU countries or live in an EU country of which some of them may not be nationals. When families separate, cross-border judicial cooperation is necessary to give children a secure legal environment to maintain relations with both parents or guardians who may live in another Member State. The report published today underlines that more needs to be done to help international families find legal clarity in such situations (for example on which court is competent). The European Commission is therefore kicking off a wide public consultation on possible solutions, as well as a campaign to raise awareness of what help and rules exist in case international families decide to separate. Everyone interested can submit contributions to the consultation here. The consultation will run until 18 July.

"Family break-ups are by nature always difficult. When break-ups occur across borders, additional legal difficulties arise because of the complexity of the situation. That is why Europe needs to have the right rules in place to help couples separate as smoothly as possible, especially where children are involved," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "In the EU we have had rules in place to determine jurisdiction and help international families since 2001, but 13 years down the line it’s time to improve these rules. Citizens, lawyers, judges, national authorities and interested NGOs – everyone can have their say as to what kind of measures the EU should take to make life even easier for international couples."

Roberta Angelilli, Member of the European Parliament said: "About half of the requests submitted to the Office of the European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction complain about irregularities in the application of European law. It is therefore important to carefully evaluate the application of Regulation 2201/2003 in order to make corrections where necessary and ensure a uniform and effective implementation of the legislation. For this reason, the European Parliament is also carrying out a study on international child abduction in Europe which aims to examine the legal framework and its implementation, at European and at Member State level, to ensure greater certainty for citizens and to better protect the children involved in these situations."

The report published today by the European Commission concludes that EU rules now in place have brought important benefits to citizens in settling their cross-border marriage disputes and parental responsibility matters. The 2003 Regulation on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments on divorce, separation and judgments on parental responsibility for the children has helped prevent parallel judicial proceedings in several EU countries by identifying which country’s courts are responsible to deal with a divorce and with parental responsibility matters (such as custody and visiting rights) – even for children born outside of wedlock. It has also created a system of cooperation between Member State Central Authorities in matters of parental responsibility and facilitated enforcement of visiting rights for parents and for certain return orders issued to ensure the swift return of children in cases of cross-border parental child abduction.

However, the report also reveals some important shortcomings in the legal framework currently in place:

With regards to the rules deciding which EU country’s court is responsible in matrimonial and parental responsibility matters, the absence of a uniform and exhaustive rule on jurisdiction to cover all situations leads to legal uncertainty and to Union citizens having unequal access to justice.

The free circulation of judgments in all matrimonial and parental responsibility cases is not yet fully guaranteed as certain categories of judgements still need to undergo lengthy and costly procedures before they can be recognised in another EU country.

Judgments given in other Member States often prove difficult to enforce because of divergences between Member States’ procedural standards for the hearing of the child, for example.

Cooperation between Member States’ Central Authorities can be improved, especially when it comes to collecting and exchanging information on the situation of a child in abduction cases.

In order to explore what possible solutions could be put forward, a public consultation on the application of the current rules will run for the next 3 months (from 15 April until 18 July). At the same time, a Europe-wide awareness campaign will provide targeted information to international families on cross-border parental child abduction and child custody and visiting rights, in order to improve their understanding of their rights and obligations.


The Brussels IIa Regulation (Regulation No 2201/2003) is the cornerstone of EU judicial cooperation in matrimonial matters and questions of parental responsibility. Disputes on family matters have increased in the EU due to the growing mobility of citizens and the rising number of international families. Against this background, the Regulation provides for uniform rules to settle conflicts of jurisdiction between Member States and facilitates the free circulation of judgments in the EU by laying down provisions on their recognition and enforcement in another Member State. In cases of cross-border parental child abduction, the Regulation makes available a procedure for the return of the child to the place of his or her habitual residence. The Regulation has applied since 1 March 2005 to all Member States except Denmark.

The Regulation also provides for uniform rules to settle conflicts of jurisdiction between Member States and facilitates the free circulation of judgments, authentic instruments and agreements in the Union by establishing rules on their recognition and enforcement in another Member State. In 2006, the Commission proposed amendments to the Regulation as regards jurisdiction and introducing rules concerning applicable law in matrimonial matters. No unanimity could be reached within the Council with regard to the rules on applicable law and the Commission therefore withdrew the 2006 proposal to amend the Regulation. On the basis of new Commission proposals, 14 Member States agreed to establish enhanced cooperation among themselves and adopted a Regulation laying down rules determining the law applicable to divorce and legal separation (the "Rome III" Regulation). Since then two more EU countries have joined (IP/13/975). This was the first time that enhanced cooperation was used in the Union (IP/10/1035).

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