Sweden blocks EU divorce plans

Sweden blocked Saturday European Union plans to stop divorcing couples from fighting over which EU court to legally settle their separation in.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said it was “mainly Sweden opposing” the move, out of concern that the laws of other nations would not provide the same protection to the most vulnerable partners in a divorce.

Divorces between couples from different EU countries make up about 20 percent of all divorces in the bloc. At the moment, the first member of a couple to act can choose which court will handle the case.

“Now there is what we call unfortunately this growing phenomenon of foreign shopping. People can choose the applicable law and the judge,” Frattini told reporters in Slovenia after talks between EU justice ministers.

“This is, frankly speaking, a source of legal uncertainty,” he said.

Sweden endeavours to expedite divorces as quickly as possible, while the process can take far longer in other nations, with some demanding a period of separation before any court divorce can begin.

Malta does not recognize the right to divorce at all.

Complications can also arise in marriages between homosexuals, which are only recognized in some of the 27 EU nations.

Slovenian Justice Minister Lavro Sturm, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said one of the aims of the planned measures was “to stop more favourable court decisions for one of the spouses.”

But Sweden’s Justice Minister Beatrice Ask argued that such new steps would undermine her country’s laws, which she said had been an important factor in establishing gender equality.

“Applying more restrictive rules on divorce to some groups — for example rules requiring long separation periods or fault grounds — would mean a major setback in providing equality,” she said in a letter to Sturm.

But Sturm said it would not be fair, for example, if the husband of a German couple married in Germany moved to Sweden and filed for divorce there, forcing the wife to respect Swedish law when it had no connection with their marriage.

While he acknowledged Sweden’s objections, Frattini underlined that it was important for EU nations to have faith in each other’s justice systems.

“Mutual trust means that we trust other colleagues’ judges and prosecutors, and other laws in other member states are sufficiently protecting human rights and human beings,” he said.