EU-wide family law gets cautious welcome

THE EUROPEAN Commission's proposed legislation establishing standardised matrimonial law across the European Union could impose rigid and binding decisions in family law cases, says a senior UK family practitioner.

Jane Keir of Kingsley Napley warns that the commission's proposals may put some UK procedures under pressure. “The way in which courts come to decisions about children can be very diverse and, whereas in the UK we can go back for a review, in some other countries they can say a decision is binding.

“This could lead to quite hard law, but if there is to be uniformity, we will inevitably have to sacrifice some flexibility,” she says.

The commission has seized its powers under the newly ratified Treaty of Amsterdam to introduce “uniform, modern standards on annulment of marriage, divorce and separation” regulations throughout the EU. It will also “seek to facilitate the rapid and automatic recognition among member states of judgments given in another member state”. The proposals will also set rules on parental responsibility of both spouses in case of divorce or separation.

Some family lawyers welcome the idea, saying that the complexity of cross-border family cases can drag out the pain for all involved.

Solicitors Family Law Association chairwoman, Rosemary Carter, says: “With people moving between countries it is important that there is recognition of foreign rulings. It would also be good if it could also cut down on delays and forum-shopping.”

The proposal is based on an EU convention to which the UK is a party. The Government has two months to decide whether to take part in negotiations over the regulation.