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