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ELI project on Family and Succession Law starts in January 2016

The proposal for an ELI project entitled “Empowering European Families - Towards More Party Autonomy in European Family and Succession Law” was approved on 3 September 2015 by the ELI Council (decision 2015/8), and the project will start running on 1 January 2016.

Katharina Boele-Woelki, Chair of the Commission on European Family Law; Christiane Wendehorst, Professor at the University of Vienna and ELI Vice-President, and Wendy Schrama, Professor at the University of Utrecht and member of the Commission on European Family Law, are leading the project. The research will be organised around three substantial Workstreams, each of them focusing on different aspects of international family law and private international law. The project is conducted with the help of an action grant awarded under the Justice Programme of the European Union to the Universities of Vienna and Utrecht.

Around 16 million international couples live currently in the EU, that is, couples where at least one of the partners lives in a country other than his or her country of origin. Since an existing family relationship may have completely different legal effects upon moving into another jurisdiction, this may lead to unexpected effects and to hardship, e.g. in a loss of rights on the part of the weaker party in a relationship or in a distribution of the estate which is incompatible with the expectations of the deceased and the surviving family. The overall aim of this new ELI project is to reduce obstacles faced by international families and to facilitate free movement of citizens by providing better certainty and predictability of results and reducing the costs of litigation in matters of family and succession law in Europe.

Most of the problems described above could be avoided by way of early choice of court and applicable law under existing EU instruments and by agreements on substantive law issues, as far as these are enforceable in the forum state. However, many couples are not aware of these options, and many individuals do not dare raise the issue in a relationship or are not in a position to pay for expensive expert advice. Therefore, the Project Team will develop European model dispositions concerning (i) choice of court, (ii) choice of applicable law, and (iii) submission to family mediation. Complementary, the project seeks to improve the implementation of the relevant EU instruments by developing tools that would raise EU citizens’ awareness of options on a large scale, reduce psychological barriers against contracting in due time before a conflict arises or death occurs, and offer to the parties simple solutions which are available at low cost.

The Working Team already has a schedule of meetings within Workstream 1, which is focused on the European model forms concerning choice of court and of law for family matters and successions. On 10-11 January 2016 the Working Team will meet in Vienna to discuss and finalise a draft questionnaire that will then be sent to national correspondents in all 28 EU Member States. The aim of the questionnaire is to collect data for the comparative analysis of existing options of choice of court and/or of applicable law at the level of EU legal instruments and remaining national confli t-of-law rules. After receiving the completed questionnaires, the Working Team will meet in Utrecht on 10-11 April 2016 and discuss the national reports as well as draft information sheets. Further meetings of the Working Team are planned for March and June 2016, the latter combined with a public workshop in Vienna. Please consult our website regularly to follow recent developments in the project.