Sometimes it's not just a question of who gets the house and who gets the dog, but of which country's courts get to decide.
The European Commission, saying the number of international couples is on the rise, proposed new rules Thursday that would determine which country's laws apply when such a marriage or civil partnership ends. The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said the extra costs for international couples are estimated to be euro1.1 billion ($1.53 billion) a year, primarily in legal fees.
It said couples could save between euro2,000 and euro3,000 ($2,800 and $4,200), depending on the complexity of the case.
"As more and more citizens fall in love and then marry or create partnerships across borders, we need clear rules to decide how joint property is divided in case of death or divorce," said Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner.
The commission's proposal does not seek to make divorce and property laws the same in all European Union countries, but only to create rules to determine which country has jurisdiction over the division of property. The aim is to prevent one half of the couple, often the wealthier member, from rushing to court in the country he or she thinks would be most advantageous.
Also, the commission said, national laws on the matter sometimes conflict. As an example, a commission statement cited the experience of a Hungarian man and a Greek woman who got married in Greece and divorced in Hungary.
Under Greek law, the country of residence at the time of marriage had jurisdiction _ in other words, Greece. But Hungarian law said jurisdiction lay with Hungary, where they lived at the time of divorce.
If the proposal is ultimately adopted, a couple could agree on where the property would be divided. Failing that, the rules would give varying priority to a number of factors, including where the couple first lived after they were married, where the marriage was celebrated and to which country the couple had the closest links.
Slightly different rules would apply to civil partnerships, which are not recognized in all countries. International couples also include those who have assets in a different country.
The commission said there are about 16 million international couples in the European Union, and of 2.4 million marriages in the European Union in 2007, 13 percent had an international element.
Reding called the proposal "good news for international couples and good news for their bank accounts."
The European Union's legislative process can sometimes take years, however, perhaps allowing time for numerous couples to meet, fall in love, marry and get divorced, all before the proposals become law.