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European Commission proposes clearer property rights for 16 million international couples

New Regulations proposed for married couples and registered partners

The European Commission is proposing two new initiatives: 

The proposals, entitled 'Bringing legal clarity to property rights for international couples'  do not harmonise or change any of the substantive national law on marriage or registered partnerships. Instead, the proposals aim to make it easier for couples to settle property-related issues in case they move to another EU Member State or when they are from different countries and own assets abroad.

Presenting the proposals in Brussels, EU Justice Commissioner Reding said:

"We want to build bridges between Europe's different systems to ease the daily lives of international couples, but our intention is not to create uniformity where social and legal traditions still vary widely and will continue to vary widely for the foreseeable future. Increasingly, registered partnerships are being introduced by national legislation. This is why the European Commission decided not only to address the private international law aspects of international married couples, but also to enhance legal certainty to registered partnerships with an international dimension, with the first ever proposal for an EU regulation on registered partnerships." 

The Commission says that its proposals will: 

Couples will save time and money – an average of €2,000 to €3,000 per case. These savings are the result of citizens' ability to group several legal proceedings into one court action. For example, combining divorce or separation proceedings with proceedings on property issues in front of one single court. 

There are currently around 16 million international couples in the EU. Out of the 2.4 million new marriages in 2007, 13% (310,000) had an international element. Similarly, 41,000 of the 211,000 registered partnerships in the EU in 2007 had an international dimension. 

Many of these international couples have assets – such as property or a bank account – in more than one country. These couples face legal uncertainties and extra costs when dividing their property in cases of divorce, legal separation or death. At present, it is very difficult for international couples to know which courts have jurisdiction and which laws apply to their personal situation and their property. Rules vary greatly between countries and sometimes lead to conflicting situations. According to the Commission, parallel legal proceedings in different countries, complex cases and the resulting legal fees cost an estimated €1.1 billion a year. Around a third of these costs could be saved if today's proposals were approved.

The plans require unanimous approval by the Council of Ministers and consultation by the European Parliament.