The summer of 2016 was a tumultuous one in British politics which began with the EU referendum on 23 June. During those summer months it felt as though the country would no longer be surprised by any turn of events in the nation’s politics. So now we have a new Prime Minister, a new cabinet, and a mandate from the majority of the public to leave the EU.
There are many unknowns as to what the next few years will hold for the UK. What we do know so far is that Theresa May will try to trigger the two year negotiation period to leave the EU at the end of March - although the correct procedure for doing so will be before the Supreme Court this month.
So, what could this mean for you and for us as your solicitors?
In family law, EU regulations have had a broad impact on our law. The two main areas are jurisdiction and the enforcement and recognition of family court orders made in EU countries.
The issue of jurisdiction determines which country should and can deal with a divorce or a dispute over a child. The current EU regulations mean that where for example the spouses are from different European countries there will only be a divorce in one country, and not competing or multiple sets of proceedings. It therefore provides clarity and criteria for determining which country’s courts should deal with a case.
This may seem as though it only applies to wealthy international couples, but they apply more widely than you may first think. Would it apply to people you know – for example, where one spouse comes from say, Spain and the other from Britain - the jurisdiction rules apply in those circumstances. They would apply to a retired couple who are both British, but spend half of the year in their holiday home in France. Upon separating the husband decides to stay living in their home in France and the wife returns to their house in England. The EU regulations determine the criteria for permitting divorce proceedings in France or England.
The enforcement of orders in European countries is also an important issue for family lawyers, and potentially for you. An example of its use would be in circumstances where an order for maintenance was made in a divorce in this country whilst both parties were living here. After the divorce has concluded the husband (who is paying the maintenance to the wife) moves to live and work in France. Under the current EU rules, should the wife need to enforce the maintenance order then she can do so in France as the French courts will recognise an English court order.
The difficulty for all of us is not knowing what will happen to these arrangements once we leave the EU, will the government negotiate separate arrangements with each member country of the EU to replace these rules or perhaps with just some, or none at all? Who knows?. Only time will tell.