The Ministry of Justice says it is in the UK’s interests to opt into an EU regulation on cross-border family matters as a result of risks that could arise once the UK has left the European Union.

The government has decided to opt into a European Commission proposal to repeal and replace the main legal instrument - known as the Brussels IIA regulation - that helps international couples resolve disputes involving more than one country, over their divorce and custody of their children.

In a written ministerial statement issued yesterday, justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said that, notwithstanding the result of the EU referendum vote in June, it was in the UK’s interests to opt into the proposal.

The current regulation has applied to civil law cases since March 2005.

Heald said the government ’wants to avoid the risk that, if the new regulation comes into force before the UK’s exit, and the UK has not opted in to the regulation. the existing regulation will no longer apply to the UK because it might be deemed inoperable’.

He added: ’This might mean for a period of time no EU instrument regulates these matters for UK families even though the UK is still a member state.

’Secondly, even after a UK exit the regulation will affect UK citizens, principally in other member states, and it is in the UK’s interests to influence the negotiations.’

One of the current regulation’s main objectives is to uphold children’s rights to maintain contact with both parents, even if they are separated or live in different EU countries.

Following an evaluation, the commission’s proposal aims to provide clearer deadlines for certain procedures, make it easier for judgments to be recognised and enforced in another member state, and clarify and streamline certain parts of cross-border child abduction proceedings.

The proposal also removes the possibility that a court will refuse to enforce a judgment on the basis that it would have applied different national rules to whether a child should have been heard in the proceedings.

As a family justice measure, Heald said the proposal must be agreed by unanimity in the Council of Ministers.

During negotiations, he said the government will aim to make sure that what is agreed ’respects national competence, limits any impacts on domestic law and minimises any additional burdens on the courts and the authorities that will use the new regulation’.