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Empowering European Families - Towards More Party Autonomy in European Family and Succession Law

In its decision 2015/8 of 3 September 2015, the ELI Council adopted the proposal for this project to be carried out under the auspices of the ELI. Katharina Boele-Woelki, Chair of the Commission on European Family Law; Christiane Wendehorst, Professor at the University of Vienna and Wendy Schrama, Professor at the University of Utrecht and member of the Commission on European Family Law were appointed as project reporters.

Background information

There are currently 16 million international couples in the EU, i.e. couples where at least one of the partners lives in a country other than his or her country of origin. Despite the fact that EU legislation has achieved far-reaching unification of the rules concerning applicable law, jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement in family and succession law, international couples are still facing a number of problems. These problems have their roots in habitual residence as the dominant connecting factor, but also in the fact that existing EU conflict rules tend to encourage forum shopping and a ‘rush to court’. More notably still, there is often a patchwork of two or three forums and applicable laws even in standard cross-border divorce or separation cases, and the approaches taken by the various laws involved are often incompatible with each other. 

To a large extent, these problems 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, experience shows that only a minor number of international couples make use of the options afforded to them under existing instruments.

Project outline

Within the framework of this project, European model dispositions concerning (i) choice of court, (ii) choice of applicable law, and possibly (iii) submission to family mediation will be developed, which citizens must be made aware of and get access to whenever a marriage or registered partnership is concluded, a cross-border change of residence is registered, and in similar situations. They will be accompanied by simple standard information sheets. In particular in divorce and separation cases, the model dispositions will seek to reduce complexity by offering to the parties a limited set of recommended ‘one-stop shop packages’ (Workstream 1).

As a second step, European model pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements for spouses and registered partners (Workstream 2) as well as model cohabitation contracts for informal relationships (Workstream 3) will be developed, which should be enforceable in as many Member States as possible. They will be published together with comparative notes and explanations concerning which provisions are presumably enforceable in which Member States, thus providing important information for international couples and their legal advisers.

Project's objectives

This project aims at reducing obstacles faced by international families and at facilitating 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. It also aims at promoting the use of family mediation in the EU.

You can find more details on the Project here.