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UK to Opt In to European Cross-Border Family Law Measure

The UK Government has recently announced its intention to opt in to the European Commission’s proposal which repeals and replaces Regulation 2201/2003, also known as the Brussels IIa Regulation, on cross-border family matters.

Cross-Border Family Proceedings

In a written statement to the House of Commons, the Minister of State for Courts and Justice, Sir Oliver Heald, explained that Brussels IIa is the main instrument for families involved in cross-border divorce or children proceedings. It sets out the rules to decide which EU Member State’s courts can determine family law matters, such as divorce and child residence and contact, and also how orders arising from these cases can be recognised and enforced in another Member State.

International Parental Child Abduction

Brussels IIa also provides rules on the return of children abducted to, or wrongfully retained in, other Member States (usually by one parent), which supplement the international 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention.

According to Government figures, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office dealt with 493 new child custody and international child abduction cases in 2014/2015 and 445 new cases in 2015/2016. Its research has also found that cases tend to peak in the summer months.

Best Interests of the UK

The UK Government says that despite the recent Brexit decision, it still believes it to be in the best interests of the UK to opt in to this proposal. It gives a number of justifications for this decision, including:

  • The UK already applies the current Regulation to the benefit of UK citizens, including children, in cross-border families, and it wants to avoid the risk that, if the new Regulation comes into force before the UK’s exit, and the UK has not opted in to the Regulation, the existing Regulation will no longer apply to the UK because it might be deemed inoperable. This might mean for a period of time no EU instrument regulates these matters for UK families even though the UK is still a Member State.
  • Even after a UK exit the Regulation will affect UK citizens, principally in other Member States, and it is in the UK’s interests to influence the negotiations.

The Government has said that during negotiations over the proposal it will aim to make sure that what is agreed respects national competence, limits any impacts on domestic law and procedures and minimises any additional burdens on the courts and the authorities that will use the new Regulation.

The Government’s decision has been welcomed by international parental child abduction charity reunite.

The charity had taken part in a Government consultation on the issue and shares the Government’s opinion that it is important for the UK be part of the proposal, even with the UK set to leave the EU. It expressed the view that the proposal could have a significant impact on families across the EU, including British families living in other EU countries.

Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.

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