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Family, civil and commercial disputes involving EU countries after Brexit

The UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020. This process is often known as 'Brexit'.

The UK Government and the EU have now agreed a deal on their future relationship. From 1 January 2021 this new relationship with the EU will begin.

There will be effects on some areas of life in Scotland. This may include changes to the way family, civil and commercial legal disputes are handled.

This page will be updated to give the latest facts. Keep checking back for new information.

Family law disputes involving EU countries

If there's a family dispute where both parties are based in the UK there will be a change after Brexit to when courts in Scotland can deal with divorce cases.

If a family dispute involves EU countries then further rules will change after Brexit.

This will affect rules on:

  • the country that family law disputes are heard in
  • how decisions made in one country will be recognised and enforced in another

This applies to cases in Scotland for:

  • divorce
  • matters relating to children
  • child maintenance
  • EU rules on child abduction

If you are involved in a case you think may be affected by this (or if you will be soon), you should speak to a lawyer or Citizens Advice Bureau as soon as possible.

Divorce

At the moment, EU family law decides when courts have 'jurisdiction' over a divorce case (when they're able to deal with it).

Following the end of the transition period, this will change and the courts in Scotland will have jurisdiction if either partner:

  • is domiciled in Scotland on the date when the court action starts, or
  • was habitually resident in Scotland throughout the period of one year ending on the date when the court action starts
'Domiciled in Scotland' means you think of it as your permanent home and intend to live there. 'Habitually resident' means your main home is in Scotland.

There will be similar changes for the dissolution of a civil partnership.

Matters relating to children

Brexit will also affect the EU rules on matters relating to children. This includes:

  • parental responsibilities and rights
  • contact
  • residence

After Brexit, these EU rules will be replaced by other international rules, which Scotland currently follows in cases involving non-EU countries. These rules are similar to the EU rules.

Family maintenance

The rules for family maintenance that are currently applied within the EU will be replaced by other existing international rules.

This means maintenance can still be obtained and enforced between Scotland and EU countries.

If you have a child maintenance decision you want to have recognised and enforced in an EU country, as well as speaking to your solicitor you can contact:

Central Authority for Scotland

Address

St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Email

maintenanceenforcement@gov.scot

International parental child abduction

After Brexit, the rules about abduction or wrongfully retained children in EU countries will mostly stay the same.

If you're the applicant in a case to return a child who has been abducted to an EU country by a parent or a relative, you should contact:

Central Authority for Scotland

Address

St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Email

childabduction@gov.scot

The charity Reunite also provides advice and support on parental child abduction.

Civil status documents

These are documents such as:

  • birth, marriage and death certificates
  • decrees of divorce

Until 31 December 2020, EU countries accept Scottish civil status documents without further legal process.

From 1 January 2021, some EU countries may require Scottish civil status documents to go through a process known as 'legalisation'. Get your documents legalised through GOV.UK.

Some EU countries may also require Scottish civil status documents to be translated.

Cross border civil and commercial disputes involving EU countries

If there's a civil or commercial dispute where both parties are based in the UK, nothing will change after Brexit.

If a dispute involves EU countries, however, some of the rules will change after Brexit.

This will affect rules on:

  • the country civil and commercial law disputes are heard in
  • how decisions made in one country will be recognised and enforced in another

If you are currently in a case you think may be affected by this (or you will be soon) you should speak to a lawyer.

The process has changed since the end of the transition period (1 January 2021).

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