Justice ministers from 14 European Union countries, including Germany, have broken new legal ground by agreeing joint rules to govern international divorce.
In 2007 there were over a million divorces in the EU
For several years, the European Union has struggled with the question of which legal system applies when a couples of differing European nationalities divorces.
On Friday, 14 EU justice ministers agreed to set up joint rules to cover international divorces, so couples know in advance which laws apply.
"This is a historic moment," the EU's commissioner for justice questions, Viviane Reding, told journalists in Luxembourg.
According to EU statistics, there were over a million divorces in the bloc in 2007, of which 140,000 involved international couples. Cases were frequently blocked as couples and judges wrangled over which national law to use: the husband's, the wife's, the country where the marriage was celebrated or their last country of residence.
"The proposal would increase flexibility and autonomy by giving spouses a possibility to choose the applicable law to their divorce or legal separation and it would set clear rules for cases where no law has been chosen," said an EU statement.
The EU's 27 member states pushed for a common definition of which legal system to use, but Sweden, which prides itself on its liberal divorce laws, blocked the request.
However the consent of all 27 nations is not necessary. Under the Lisbon Treaty, which was ratified in December 2009, a system of 'enhanced cooperation' was introduced. The idea is to allow groups of member states - nine is the minimal number - to move ahead with more harmonization in situations in which the EU as a whole cannot agree.
14 EU countries, including Germany, France, Austria and Spain have signed up to the deal.
While countries including Britain chose to remain outside the group, they did give the nod to the agreement.
Author: Catherine Bolsover (dpa/AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner