Family law cases involving EU after Brexit

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, certain current family law agreements which apply between the EU countries will stop applying to the UK. If you have any cross-border family law cases involving people living in the EU, the rules will change.

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.

Divorce

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 'no deal' exit day, you should not be affected.

If, on no deal exit day, 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 no deal exit day, 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.

Matters relating to children (parental responsibility)

If you have, or are considering starting, a case about parental responsibility matters (including residence and contact arrangements for children) involving a person (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 no deal exit day, it should not be affected. However, if you make further applications these may need to be made to a different court.

If, on no deal exit day, you have an ongoing parental responsibility case in a court in Northern Ireland, your case will continue under the existing rules.

After no deal exit day, 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 exit day, this may need to be done in a different court or under a different procedure.

Maintenance

If your maintenance case was resolved and has been recognised by the relevant court in an EU Member State before no deal exit day, 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 no deal exit day, 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 no deal exit day, 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 no deal exit day, 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 no deal exit day, you can find out more at the links below.

International parental child abduction

There will be no substantial changes to the rules linked to EU countries in relation to abduction or wrongfully retained children.

If you are 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 seek legal advice from a specialist lawyer.

Also seek local legal advice in the country to which the child has been taken and you should contact the Central Authority for Northern Ireland and Reunite International Child Abduction Centre.

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