European Court of Justice considers jurisdiction in divorce

children and divorce

A complex divorce dispute involving several countries was referred to the European Court of Justice for a ruling on jurisdiction.

W v X concerned multinational parents. The father, ‘W’, was from Lithuania while the mother, ‘X’, was from the Netherlands but with also had family connections to Argentina. The couple married in the United States  before later moving to the Netherlands, where their child, V, was born in April 2006.

The parents moved again after V’s birth and spent a period in Italy, where the boy gained Italian nationality in addition to his Lithuanian citizenship. The family later relocated yet again, this time to Canada, eventually separating in December 2010.

X and V moved back to Italy after the split and from there returned to the Netherlands, their current place of habitual residence (residence for legal purposes). She began divorce proceedings in the Canadian courts where she received sole custody of V.

However, W, who had since returned to Lithuania, began parallel proceedings in the capital Vilnius, alleging that his estranged wife was responsible for the breakup and seeking primary care of their son instead of her. The Vilniaus miesto 1 apylinkės teismas (First District Court of Vilnius) made an interim order that the boy should live with him while the proceedings continued. But this decision was quickly overturn and an appeal by W failed.

The District Court instead awarded custody to the mother, giving W visitation rights and specifying child maintenance payments. The father unsuccessfully appealed the ruling all the way to the Lietuvos Aukščiausiasis Teismas (Supreme Court of Lithuania).

Further proceedings were launched in the Dutch courts. Judges there also confirmed that V would live with his mother and specified a programme of child maintenance payments, subject to annual review.

However, the Dutch would not recognise most of the Lithuanian divorce ruling, accepting only the programme of contact visits drawn up by its north-eastern counterpart.

This led to a standoff between the Lithuanian and Dutch court systems, with the former declining to enforce the decisions of the latter. Following a series of legal manoeuvrings between the two countries, the Lithuanian court referred the entire case to the European Court of Justice for a decision on authority and enforcement.

Justices there concluded that, under EU law, the jurisdiction which makes a binding ruling regarding the parent a child will live with and the financial support to be provided by the other parent, will nevertheless lose responsibility for any further decisions in the case if the child subsequently acquires habitual residence in another country.

The full ruling is here.

Image of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania by David Iliff under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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1 comment

I - April 20, 2017 at 10:54pm

I divorced my husband in France, been through the appeal courts and Supreme Court in order to contest the judgement which was made without taking into account my husbands saving account with the company he works for, which is in fact an investment programme within his company. I know it exists and after many year of investment s is very valuable. My husband denies its existence and the French civil courts have never demanded the company to reveal my husbands contract or if the account exists. My ex husband is a commercial director, classed as a manager with strategic responsibilities and so eligible to participate in the companies saving investment programme. My husband has been able to buy a new home valued at about the same amount as our house. In the liquidation of our assets I will loose my home, our old family home and my ex will keep his along with the saving investment he made with his company.
He works for [name removed] which has its remuneration report on internet every year which mentions the added remuneration for managers with strategic responsibilities . He still denies he has an account. He is putting a great deal of pressure on me to conclude with the liquidation. Today I learned he is suing me for the totality of the house and 30,000€ he says I owe him.
Having unsuccessfully tried all avenues in France is there anything that can be done within the European courts to obtain the information I need from his company?
Yours sincerely,
I
(*Comment edited – please see our moderation policy here).

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