On the initiative of the Notaries of Europe and the European Commission, around 400 academics, legal practitioners and representatives of national and European political institutions met in Brussels for a conference on Clearer Patrimonial Regimes for International Couples. The main focus of the conference was two recent European Commission proposals, one on matrimonial property regimes and the other on the property consequences of registered partnerships.
As the European Union now has over 16 million international couples and with nearly one marriage in five ending in divorce, the Notaries of Europe and the European Commission are working on legal solutions that will guarantee the legal certainty expected by citizens. The Commission’s two proposals should make it possible to clarify the questions facing international couples when a matrimonial property regime or partnership is dissolved, with respect to the applicable law, the competent court or the enforcement of a judgement or instrument relating to the couple’s property.
For Ms Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, these proposals seek to lay down clear rules for managing property. These rules are based on the principle of mutual recognition, which is the cornerstone of judicial cooperation in Europe, and the principle of a single law applying. The Commission proposes that this law should be determined depending on either the couple’s choice or a list of connecting factors. For Ms Reding, these provisions will make it possible to “preserve the couple’s legal certainty and the protection of third parties, particularly creditors”. According to Mr Rudolf Kaindl, the President of the Council of the Notariats of the European Union (CNUE), “this controlled autonomy of the couple with respect to the choice of the applicable law will enable couples to plan their legal situation”.
The speakers underlined the problem of access to specific and detailed information for couples before choosing the legal system that will apply to their marriages. German MEP Alexandra Thein wished to extend the possibility to choose the law to registered partnerships. This is not foreseen in the Commission’s proposal. Nevertheless, this choice should be on condition that legal advice is sought beforehand. Indeed, while there are many legal differences between the Member States with respect to matrimonial property regimes, “there are even more differences on the issue of partnerships”. A lack of information may lead a couple to choose “a law that damages their interests” or to “choose a State that does not recognise partnerships or in which partnerships do not have the same effects.”
As Mr Kaindl recalled, notaries are “advisors of families”, best placed to help couples in their legal choices connected to their unions. The Notaries of Europe are aware of European citizens’ need for information and wish to develop new services that will facilitate their access to law. This was what led the Notaries of Europe to set up the Succession Europe portal, a website providing information on the Member States’ succession laws in 23 languages. During the conference, the Notaries of Europe announced the creation of a new portal for the end of 2012 that will focus on the law of matrimonial property regimes. According to Ms Reding, this project “goes hand in hand” with the Commission’s proposals. The portal will help citizens gain better knowledge of the national laws and this will enable them to choose the law that best suits their interests.
Finally, the European Directory of Notaries was presented to participants. Through this directory, citizens can find a notary anywhere in the European Union who speaks their language. In the coming months the directory will be integrated in the European institutions’ e-justice portal.