Family, civil and commercial disputes involving EU countries after Brexit

Last updated: 20 December 2019

The UK will leave the European Union on 31 January 2020. We'll then enter a 'transition period' that's likely to last until the end of December 2020. During this period the UK will still follow EU rules.

Brexit will have an effect on some areas of life in Scotland.

This may include changes to the way family, civil and commercial legal disputes are handled.

Brexit has not happened yet, and many of the details are not yet known. This page gives the latest facts, but it will be updated as more details are confirmed. Please 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, nothing will change after Brexit except for a small change to when courts in Scotland can deal with divorce cases.

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

If we have not agreed an EU trade deal by the end of the Brexit transition period, some EU family law agreements will no longer apply to the UK.

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.

There will be no changes to the process until the end of the transition period (December 2020).

Divorce

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

If we reach the end of the transition period without a deal, this will change and the courts will have jurisdiction if either partner:

  • is resident in Scotland on the date when the court action starts, or
  • was resident in Scotland throughout the period of one year ending on the date when the court action starts.

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

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

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

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 may change after Brexit.

If we have not agreed an EU trade deal by the end of the transition period (a 'no deal' situation), some EU civil law agreements will no longer apply to the UK.

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.

There will be no changes to the process until the end of the transition period (December 2020).

The UK Government has published detailed information on civil cases which includes Scotland in a 'no deal' situation.