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10 February 2020

Divorce and Brexit – no need to panic

31 January 2020 was undoubtedly a momentous day for the UK, in respect of its relationship with the remaining EU countries (and doubtless the rest of the world).

In the months leading up to the UK’s departure there was debate as to whether or not it was beneficial for individuals facing matrimonial difficulties to commence divorce proceedings or try and accelerate their progress prior to the departure date. However, there was no ‘one size fits all’ answer to that question.

The reality is that the date has come and gone and the world has not ended. However, it remains the case that, at some point in the not too distant future there will be changes, possibly significant ones, to a number of important aspects of the divorce procedure where one or both of the parties has a connection with an EU country.

International divorces give rise to a number of questions not least:

  • where can the divorce take place?
  • if divorce proceedings could occur in more than one country, which would take precedence?
  • will the divorce settlement be more favourable in one country than another? and
  • how easy will it be to enforce any financial order if one party defaults?

In the last few decades EU legislation has provided well understood answers to these questions but the future is less certain. We are now in an implementation period which will run until 31 December 2020. Negotiations on the future UK/EU relationship are reported to be due to start on 3 March and will hopefully produce workable solutions to the various practical problems. Although realistically this may not be until late this year. In the meantime the current EU instruments, including all EU family law instruments, will continue to apply. For this reason there is no need to panic.

As things stand there can often be profound advantages to one party if the divorce takes place in one European country rather than another (and corresponding disadvantages to the other party). For example, the rules on sharing of assets and maintenance may be very different from country to country.

We would strongly recommend taking specialist legal advice here and abroad before any proceedings are started. Given the expected length of the implementation period, there is plenty of time to do this but we would countenance against leaving this until the last minute. It can take time to accumulate all the necessary information and advice to enable sound decisions to be made before any proceedings are started.

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