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Matrimonial Property and Registered Partnership Property Regimes

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lord McNally, has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Government have today decided not to opt in to the European Commission’s proposals on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions in matters of matrimonial property regimes and the property consequences of registered partnerships.

The Commission’s proposals aim to regulate jurisdiction and applicable law as they apply both to the daily management of the property of spouses and registered partners (which would include civil partnerships registered in the UK) and to how disputes relating to the distribution of assets in cross-border situations are handled following the ending of a couple’s relationship through divorce or dissolution of the partnership, separation or death.

The broad balance of opinion from the Government’s consultation was that it would not be in the UK’s interests to participate in these proposals. A number of difficulties were identified. First, the concept of a matrimonial property regime (or equivalent for civil partners) does not exist in the UK in the sense understood in most other member states. Currently our courts take a wide view of the capital resources available to the parties on divorce or dissolution (including maintenance). Many of these issues are not included in traditional matrimonial property regimes. If the UK was to opt in it would be more difficult for our courts to deal with all aspects of the financial provision of international couples on divorce or dissolution in cases which fall within the scope of these proposals.

Concerns were raised about how the use of foreign law could drive up costs and complicate the resolution of disputes in the family courts and create uncertainty for third-parties who enter into a legal relationship with the couple. There was also considered to be uncertainty about the interaction with succession law.

Both the House of Lords European Union Select Committee and the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee have recommended the UK should not opt-in.