European Union Justice ministers moved to make it easier to recover unpaid alimony money from divorced breadwinners living in a different member state, but stalled on a bid to cut "divorce shopping."
The EU wants divorce arrangement made in one country to be enforced in another
At a meeting in Luxemburg on Friday, June 6, EU justice ministers agreed to remove some of the legal obstacles that currently prevent judges from enforcing cross-border maintenance obligations in divorce cases.
Once the new guidelines are adopted, court rulings issued in one EU country on this matter will be valid in all other 26 EU countries except Denmark, which has an opt-out clause.
The decision will affect scores of Europeans, since an estimated 100,000 divorces each year, or one in five, involve couples from different EU member states.
"The current lack of arrangements allows irresponsible parents to evade their proper obligations," said Jack Straw, Britain's justice minister.
"This is about ensuring that obligations made by a court in one country are properly enforceable in another," he added.
Slovenian Justice Minister Lovro Sturm, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU until June, said he expected the guidelines to be formally adopted during the second half of the year.
Shopping for best divorce laws
Ministers, however, failed to overcome their differences on a related issue -- "divorce shopping" -- and were forced to shelve their efforts to end the practice for the time being.
Divorce shopping involves separating spouses battling for the most favorable settlement in different EU courts.
EU attempts to stop the practice were sunk by Sweden, which feared that any EU move might threaten its own divorce rules.
"We decided to give ourselves a little time to think," said Commissioner Jacques Barrot, the EU's top justice official.
Divorce rules vary widely within the EU. While it usually takes just six months to obtain a divorce in some Nordic countries, separated Irish couples must spend at least four years apart before they become officially divorced.
Divorce is still illegal in Malta.