Changes to family law
There will be changes to rules that decide:
- where cases for divorce are heard (jurisdiction) and how a divorce granted in one country will be recognised in another
- where cases about children (parental responsibility) are heard and in which countries decisions will be recognised and enforced
- where cases for maintenance are heard and in which countries decisions will be recognised and enforced
- extra EU rules on child abduction
This information relates to cases involving the courts of Northern Ireland. People with cross-border family law cases involving the courts in Scotland or England and Wales should seek advice on how the rules will change in those jurisdictions.
If you are going through a divorce, or thinking about getting divorced, and either you or your spouse is habitually resident or domiciled in Northern Ireland, the rules will change.
If your divorce was made final before, 31 December 2020, you should not be affected.
If, on 31 December 2020, you have an ongoing divorce case in Northern Ireland, your case will continue under the existing rules.
The jurisdiction grounds on which divorce cases can be brought in Northern Ireland will broadly stay the same. You can apply for a divorce in the usual way.
However, if your divorce case links the UK and an EU country (depending on where you or your spouse live), after 31 December 2020, courts in Northern Ireland will apply new rules to decide where your divorce case will be heard.
You should get advice from a family lawyer as to how these changes affect you.
Cases about parental responsibility
If you're involved in a parental responsibility case (including residence and contact arrangements for children) with an adult or child who is living in the EU, the rules will change.
If your parental responsibility case has been made final and recognised by a Northern Ireland court before 31 December 2020, it should not be affected. However, if you make further applications these may need to be made to a different court.
If, on 31 December 2020, you have an ongoing parental responsibility case in a court in Northern Ireland, your case will continue under the existing rules.
After 31 December 2020, courts in Northern Ireland will use similar rules as those currently to decide if they should hear a parental responsibility case and to recognise and enforce decisions made in EU countries.
However, if you have a case ongoing in a court in an EU country or need to have judgments recognised and enforced in an EU country after 31 December 2020, this may need to be done in a different court or under a different procedure.
If your maintenance case was resolved and has been recognised by the relevant court in an EU Member State before 31 December 2020, you should not be affected.
The rules will not change that apply to Child Maintenance Service cases where both parents and child are based in the UK.
On 31 December 2020, the rules will change that decide where court cases for child maintenance and cases involving spousal maintenance should be heard and which countries will recognise and enforce decisions.
If, on 31 December 2020, you have an ongoing maintenance case in a court in Northern Ireland or in an EU Member State, your case will continue to be heard in that court. However, if you make further applications after 31 December 2020, they may need to be made to a different court or under a different procedure.
If you have a child maintenance decision that you want to have recognised and enforced in an EU Member State after 31 December 2020, go to:
- Reciprocal enforcement maintenance order (REMO)
- Child maintenance if one parent lives abroad
- Guidance on maintenance cases involving EU countries from 31 December 2020.
International parental child abduction
There won't be major changes to the rules linked to EU countries for abduction or wrongfully retained children.
If you're the applicant in a case to return a child who has been abducted to an EU country by the other parent or a relative, you should get legal advice from a specialist lawyer.
You should get legal advice in the country where the child has been taken. You should contact the Central Authority for Northern Ireland and Reunite International Child Abduction Centre.