European Court to Decide on Jurisdiction in International Maintenance Dispute

The arrangements for custody of children and for meeting their financial needs when a marriage breaks down are often problematic. When there is an international element, things can get very complicated indeed, as a recent case involving the children of an Anglo-German marriage which ended demonstrates.

When the couple divorced in Germany, an order was made for maintenance to be paid by the father to the mother, with whom the children remained in Germany.

The father, a UK resident, stopped complying with the payment order, alleging that his ex-wife was obstructing his efforts to have contact with their children.

The first issue to be dealt with was essentially whether the English Family Court was the right place to hear the case in the first instance. Because of an uncertainty in the domestic legislation implementing the European legislation by which such international issues are to be resolved, the judge decided that 'the volume of pending cases and the need for certainty in the law make this [referral to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)] not only the appropriate course but the preferable course'.

Adding that 'the potential ramifications are wide-ranging' and that the arrears in maintenance by this time were likely to be 'considerably in excess' of the €6,000 outstanding up to the beginning of 2015, a request for an expedited hearing was also made.

The case was only reported recently, but the CJEU's ruling is expected soon as the original hearing was held in private in July 2015.

Many cases are awaiting the outcome of this decision. We can advise you on what to do if you face similar circumstances.
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Chris Taylor
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