The European Commission published on 13 April 2023 a study on the application of Regulation 4/2009 on maintenance obligations. The study, authored by Marion Goubet, Sophie Buckingham, Cécile Jacob, Michael Wells-Greco and Quentin Liger, consists of a final report and various annexes, including a synthesis report. Details on the operation of the Maintenance Regulation in the Member States between 2011 and 2019 are found here.
The final report finds that the majority of stakeholders consider the Maintenance Regulation to be effective in establishing common rules for the recovery of maintenance claims across the EU, but acknowledges that, in response to the challenges and issues raised in terms of practical implementation of the Regulation’s provisions, “certain adjustments could be made were it to be recast”.
The report observes, among other things, that the provisions regarding jurisdiction appear to be fragmented and can thus difficult to apply due to there being multiple possible fora and no hierarchy amongst them. In addition, “certain inconsistencies arise both within the Regulation itself, and when compared to other instruments, including Brussels IIa and Brussels IIa recast”.
Concerning the applicable law, which is to be determined in accordance with the Hague Protocol of 2007, the report highlights the practical difficulties experienced in respect of Article 10, concerning public authorities. One issue, the report notes, “was that the process for a public body to prove permissible representation of a creditor is sometimes lengthy and burdensome”. In addition, “if recovery is already under way for the applicant (not a public body) for unpaid maintenance, a public body can be denied legal aid given that two recoveries from the same debtor are not possible”.
As to recognition and enforcement, the study indicates that challenges have arisen in the enforcement of maintenance decisions that set the amount of maintenance obligations on the basis of a percentage of the salary of the debtor or of the requesting State’s minimum wage, but adds that, in this aspect, “a greater uptake and update of the current non-compulsory standard form on the statement of maintenance arrears created by the EJN could be recommended”. For example, “the form could also include information on how to calculate the maintenance based on the State’s minimum monthly wage”.
The report also signal that “delays are still encountered to enforce maintenance decisions originating from Member States other than the Member State of enforcement”, which is “partly due to the obligation under Article 41 of the Regulation to afford the same conditions for enforcement in the Member State of enforcement to those decisions originating from another Member State”. In fact, if “criteria that are necessary for enforcement in some Member States are not met, this circumstance explains the delays faced for the enforcement of decisions originating from a Member State other than the Member State of enforcement”. The lack of minimum procedural harmonisation, it is contended, “also encompasses differences in the service of maintenance decisions across Member States, termination of maintenance proceedings and different practices in the recovery of lawful interests”. In the end, “a minimum harmonisation of enforcement procedures of maintenance decisions across Member States could be recommended”, in particular as concerns “the procedures for the location of the income and other financial circumstances of the debtor abroad, the possibility to access some information about the debtor, and the introduction of grounds for the suspension and the termination of the maintenance proceedings”.
Challenges (and proposals aimed to address them) are identified in the report also as regards legal aid and cooperation between authorities.
Various remarks are made concerning the interplay between the Maintenance Regulation an other instruments. It is observed, inter alia, that the Regulation and the 2007 Lugano Convention “are not sufficiently aligned, and their interaction can be complex, especially when it comes to jurisdictions rules such as in the case of choice of court agreements”. If the Regulation were to be revised, “the opportunity could be taken to abide by the 2007 Lugano Convention, especially when dealing with the application of exclusive jurisdiction clauses agreed based on the Convention”. Likewise, the Regulation “could allow the EU second seized court to decline jurisdiction in favour of the first seized non-EU court, thus ensuring the respect of the lis pendens rule of the 2007 Lugano Convention”: a recommendation would be to “draft choice of law rules that leaves less leeway for different interpretations in different States”.
The report also stresses the benefits that (further) digitalisation in this area would provide.