The European Commission has unveiled plans to end the widespread practice of "divorce shopping", where one separating spouse rushes to court before the other to exploit advantageous laws in a particular European country.
Under proposals outlined this week, rules would be laid out to make clear which legal system would administer the growing number of "international divorcees".
With 25 legal systems in the EU, divorcing couples often find themselves in a legal morass. Problems are common for spouses of different nationality, those who live in different countries, or those who are abroad.
There are about 2.2 million marriages each year in the EU, of which about 350,000 can be classified as international. About 875,000 divorces take place annually, of which an estimated 170,000 - or 16 per cent - are international. Growing mobility across European borders has not been matched by a convergence of family law. For example, Malta does not allow divorce, though it does recognise judgments by foreign courts.
EU officials do not want to harmonise laws, but they do want to introduce firm rules. These would allow couples to choose which of the legal systems to which they have ties they would prefer to use.
If they cannot agree, EU regulations would use a scale of "connecting factors" to determine the country to which the couple had strongest ties. The plan, which needs to be approved by all member states, is likely to be controversial in countries such as Poland and Ireland, where the grip of the Catholic Church is strong. In Ireland, couples must wait for four years to get a divorce, while in Finland it takes only six months, even if the other …