Case law Developments in PIL

CJEU on Single Habitual Residence of Spouses

On 25 November 2021, the Court of Justice handed out its judgement in IB (C-289/20), in which it followed the earlier Opinion of AG Sánchez-Bordona. The preliminary question referred to the Court in this case concerned the jurisdictional rules of Article 3(1)(a) of the Brussels II bis Regulation and was aimed at clarifying whether a spouse might have his or her ‘habitual residence’ in more than one country, which could result in courts of both Member States having jurisdiction in proceedings relating to matrimonial matters. This post was published previously on EU Law Live.

Background

The background to the case concerns the applicant IB, who wanted to institute divorce proceedings at forum actoris pursuant to the sixth indent of Article 3(1)(a) of the Brussels II bis Regulation, having strong ties to two countries, Ireland due to family and social interests and France due to professional and patrimonial interests.

CJEU’s Analysis

Referring to Mikołajczyk (C-294/15), the Court of Justice recalled that Article 3 of the Brussels II bis Regulation provides for very generous grounds of jurisdiction, which are alternative, but exclusive. The rules of the fifth and sixth indents of Article 3(1)(a) were designed considering interests of the spouse who, after the breakdown of the marriage, decides to move back to his or her home country nad wants to institute proceeding there (paragraph 35). The concept of ‘habitual residence’ is not defined in the Brussels II bis Regulation; however, it is consistently used in a singular form. The use of the adjective ‘habitual’ suggests that on the one hand the residence should have a stable and regular character and on the other the transfer of habitual residence to another country should reflect the willingness of remaining there with the intention of establishing there the stable center of one’s life interests. The assimilation of the habitual residence of a person, in this case a spouse, to the permanent or habitual centre of his or her interests does not militate in favour of accepting that a number of residences may simultaneously have such a character (paragraphs 40-44).

The objective of Article (3)(1)(a) of the Brussels II bis Regulation is to reconcile legal certainty with the reality of the mobility of persons within the EU. Assuming that one might have multiple habitual residences would definitely undermine this legal certainty and predictability as to which court might hear the case. It would also create a risk that the concept of ‘habitual residence’ would be equated with simple residence. Additionally, such interpretation of the concept of habitual residence under the Brussels II bis Regulation would have repercussions for other EU instruments, namely the Maintenance Regulation and the Matrimonial Property Regulation, which provide for jurisdictional basis dependent on the jurisdiction in matrimonial matters (paragraph 48).

CJEU’s Conclusion

As a result, a person might have only one habitual residence within the meaning of Article 3(1)(a) of the Brussels II bis Regulation (paragraph 51). Having concluded the above, the Court of Justice clarified the meaning of the concept of ‘habitual residence’. Its judgements concerning habitual residence of a child, in HR (C-512/17) for example, were used as a starting point. Then the Court underlined the specificities of the situation of an adult, namely the will of returning to the home country after the marriage breakdown, as well as the more diverse nature of the environment, which is composed of different activities and diversified interests – professional, sociocultural, patrimonial, and familial (paragraph 56). Habitual residence is characterized by two elements, namely the willingness of fixing one’s center of interests in a given place and the presence of sufficiently stable character (paragraph 57). The Court of Justice thus seemed to suggest that IB might have indeed changed his place of habitual residence (paragraphs 59-61) but noted that it is for the referring court to ascertain.

Overall, the judgement is not a surprising one, as it stands in line with previous jurisprudence of Court of Justice, for example in EE (C-80/19), when it states that the habitual residence of the deceased must be established in a single Member State (paragraph 40).

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