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DIVORCE between couples of different ethnicities has become much easier for residents in 14 EU states, as for the first time in EU history, a limited number of states have agreed to launch an enhanced cooperation process covering divorce between “international” couples.

According to the new procedure, couples will have the option of choosing which country’s laws they would like to follow to carry out their divorce. Until now divorce courts had to sort out relevant legislation of all states involved.

Cyprus is not one of the states affected by the new rulings, but the high numbers of mixed marriages means the government should consider following suit, the chairman of the House Legal Affairs Committee said last week.

This is the first time the procedure of “enhanced cooperation” - a procedure where a minimum of nine EU member states can integrate in an area within EU structures but without the other members being involved – has been used, over two decades after the procedure was first approved.

The European Parliament approved the new legislation last month with 615 votes to 30, enabling 14 like-minded member states – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta (where there is legal separation but no divorce), Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain – to move forward.

With the new law, a Franco-German couple living in Belgium, for example, can choose whether to apply French or German law to their divorce; or they could even choose Belgian law, seeing that they are residents in the state.

"We are giving couples more freedom and choice over their divorce, which is a difficult moment in their lives", explained Polish MEP Tadeusz Zwiefka, of the European People’s Party. “The new rules ensure that these intrinsically painful episodes in their lives are not made even more difficult to bear by the difficulties associated with the courts’ having to deal with the problems of applicable law, which are hard to comprehend even for many lawyers".

It took years of blockage in the Council to reach this point, with the divorce issue being deadlocked since 2006.

The new legislation will not affect other non-participating states, but will also not discriminate against them or exclude them if they wish to take part at a later date.

It cannot go beyond or contravene the EU legal order, while the European Commission will oversee its application, like for any other EU legislation.

According to the Chairman of the House Legal Affairs Committee, DISY’s Ionas Nicolaou, Cyprus’ parliament has not yet received a proposal by the government to discuss the matter.

But he was aware of it, as he was informed along with the rest of the EU’s Legal Affairs’ chairmen during an EU-wide conference while Spain had EU presidency.

The Spanish presidency, said Nicolaou, had made it clear that this change in divorce laws was part of the state’s top priorities.

“It is a matter that needs to occupy the Cyprus Republic and we would expect to see some sort of proposal by the government,” said Nicolaou. “We recently had a case where one spouse was Swedish and the other Cypriot, which created massive problems regarding the choice of which country’s judicial system should be used. The matter isn’t simple; we are not just dealing with issuing a divorce, but other matters as well, such as children’s custody and so on.”

The issue certainly affects Cypriots, he explained, which was why he called on the government to “bring the matter to parliament with specific suggestions”.

Nicolaou said according to the enhanced cooperation procedure, Cyprus could still decide to participate at a later date, once the legal framework has been formed.

By Jacqueline Agathocleous Published on August 8, 2010

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