Private international law in the family

Plan ahead if you have cross-border family relationships, choose the applicable law to avoid future surprises.

If Hungarian couples decide to work abroad, they need to know that their relationships will be governed by private international law. When it comes to cross-border family relationships, it's important to plan ahead and choose the right law.

Why does it matter which county's law is applied? In this article I will show you how many questions can arise in connection with relocation and I give some of the possible answers in parentheses, just to illustrate the complexity of the situation. (Please note that this article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask your lawyer.)


The basic situation is that a Hungarian couple moves to Brussels and lives there for years. They buy a place to live and a car, but they also own a property in Hungary. A few years later, they tied the knot in Belgium. Their child is born in Brussels and, while they're happy there, they don't want to move back home. They stay put and later the child starts school in Brussels. Then after a couple of years, the family idyll comes to an end. Either the marriage breaks down or one of the parties dies.

Even during the happy years, the question may arise, which law governs their property relations, Belgian or Hungarian? (The answer is complex, because although both countries are EU member states, Belgium participates in the application of the matrimonial property law regulation, but Hungary does not. According to Hungarian law, this issue is governed by the Private International Law Act. So the question is, where can the marriage contract be concluded, in Belgium or in Hungary? Usually the couple prefers to enter into a marriage contract according to the law of their home country. There is a possibility for this - please be adviced by your lawyer. Many subsequent problems can be avoided with the marriage contract and the choice of the law.)


If the couple consciously plans their lives and they think ahead, they might want to settle inheritance issues by will. Where can they make a will? (Anywhere, and it is possible to choose the applicable law - Belgian or Hungarian. If they do not choose the law, the law of the country where the testator lived at the time of the will (Belgian) shall apply. It is not possible to choose which country's notaries will act (it is always the competent authority in the country where the testator was habitually resident at the time of the death) but it is possible to choose the applicable law. Just a heads-up: it's possible that the Belgian authority might have to apply Hungarian law in this case.)


If there's no will and the husband dies, which country's authorities will deal with the inheritance and which law will apply? (The Belgian authorities will act and Belgian law will apply, unless there's a choice of law. The Belgian authorities will issue the European Certificate of Succession, which the heir can use to prove their succession status in another EU country, like Hungary. This document is recognised in all EU countries, so there's no need for any extra paperwork.)


What happens if the relationship breaks down and they divorce? Can divorce proceedings be started in Hungary or only in Belgium? Does it depend on whether there are children? Which state's law should be taken into account when sharing the matrimonial property?
(This depends on whether there is a child and whether the couple are willing to reach an agreement between themselves and seek a divorce by mutual agreement, or whether the court must decide. EU regulations determine where divorce proceedings can be initiated and which court has jurisdiction over matters related to children. The parties can choose to enter into an agreement under Hungarian law by choosing the applicable law, which can help them avoid the often costly litigation abroad. However, this requires willingness to compromise and also a lawyer with expertise in international family law.)


After a relationship breakdown, the child remains with the mother, who, however, decides that she would rather move home with the child to Hungary, can she do so?

(No, she is not allowed to decide about relocation alone. Moving back to Hungary without the father’s consent is illegal child abduction and in such case the father would have the option of returning the child to Belgium. However, the parents can enter into an agreement on changing the child's habitual residence to Hungary and on additional issues related – access tot he child – and this can again be concluded under Hungarian law, with the assistance of a Hungarian lawyer. However, if there is no agreement between the parents on the relocation the Belgian authorities shall have jurisdiction ont he case.)


If the same couple relocates to London or to the United States or to Switzerland instead of Brussels, the answers are again different, as in such not the EU regulations but the relevant international conventions between the two countries and the Private International Law Act apply.


If only one of them is a Hungarian citizen and the other spouse is a foreigner, the situation can be even more complex.

When planning your relocation, it's a good idea to find out how your new life situation will be treated under private international law. If you're not sure about jurisdiction and applicable law issues and you want to get information and plan ahead, please feel free to schedule a consultation here >>

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