Children across the EU will benefit from speedier maintenance payments when families split up, under new EU rules which come into force today.

With an estimated 16 million international couples in the EU and 1 million divorces every year, more and more families need to recover maintenance fees when one parent lives abroad and refuses to provide financial help, the European Commission said.

The new rules set up an EU-wide system for facilitating the recovery of maintenance payments, so that absent parents will no longer be able to evade their obligations.

"The interests of children must always come first. These rules will make sure they will still receive financial support if a parent lives away from them in another EU country," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner.

At present, Europeans can face problems trying to recover unpaid child support and other forms of maintenance from someone in another EU country, such as when a couple divorces and one parent goes to live abroad. This can have considerable costs to parents and children, both in financial and psychological terms. In addition, governments often have to pay to make up for the defaults of debtors.

The new rules will allow people to effectively recover maintenance claims in cross-border situations. In most cases, a decision on maintenance obligations in one EU country will be enforceable in another one without any special procedure. This will speed up procedures and save parents money. The Regulation also sets up rules on co-operation between central authorities to provide assistance in relation to maintenance applications.

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