Divorce in France is governed by the French Civil Code. There are four main ways in which you can divorce, with the most common being ‘mutual consent’ divorces and ‘at fault’ divorces. Keep reading for more information about how to get a divorce in France, as well as how financial settlements and child custody rules work.
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The divorce laws in France
French laws permit divorce for 4 reasons:
- Mutual consent
- Separation for more than 2 years
- ‘At fault’.
Divorce by mutual consent
If you and your spouse agree to the divorce, and you reach agreement on financial and child custody issues, you can obtain a divorce by mutual consent (divorce par consentement mutual). You don’t have to provide any grounds for the divorce.
Until the end of 2016 your agreement had to be drawn up by a solicitor, signed and approved by a judge. From 2017, if you agree to a divorce by mutual consent, your divorce agreement is now signed by your respective lawyers. You then have a 15-day ‘cooling-off’ period to consider the agreement before you sign it.
A notary then checks it is compliant with the law, ensures the 15-day period has been observed, and registers the divorce. No court appearance is now required.
If you both agree that you want to be divorced, but you can’t come to an agreement on financial or childcare arrangements, an ‘accepted divorce (divorce accepté) is an option.
The court will verify that you both consent to the divorce and will make an award on the issues you can’t agree on. You will be encouraged to come to an agreement, and if you can’t they will resolve child custody and the split of any assets.
If you or your spouse accuse the other of the breakdown of your marriage this will lead to a contested or ‘at fault’ divorce (divorce pour faute).
This is ordinarily a lengthier process and you will have to prove that the other party caused the disintegration of your marriage. Grounds that you may cite include:
The law in France encourages you to arrive at an amicable agreement and sometimes even to change the type of divorce.
If the judge believes that the ‘faults’ are not serious enough, they can refuse to grant the divorce.
Divorce for prolonged separation
If you have lived apart for more than two years, then you can apply for a divorce for prolonged separation (altération définitive du lien conjugal).
A court will pronounce the divorce.
Divorce in France and child custody
After a divorce in France, both parents retain certain important rights and are expected to maintain responsibility for their child.
Courts want to establish a stable environment for a child, and laws passed in 2002 set a principle that a shared residence order (résidence alternée) can be made where your circumstances permit.
A shared residence order does not mean that your child will split their time 50/50 between both parents. Factors that the court will consider include:
- Your child’s age
- Your relationship with the other parent and your ability to communicate
- How far apart you live
- Your child’s wishes and feelings.
Often, the court will decide that your child should live primarily with one parent, and the other parent will be granted contact rights (including days and overnight stays). This can range from alternate weekend contact to overnight stays during the week, depending on your circumstances.
If you don’t have custody of your child, you will be ordered to pay financial support for your child (contribution à l’éducation et à l’entretien des enfants) even if your income is less than that of your former spouse. The amount of support will be determined by the needs and expenses of both parents.
France is also a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction and also applies the Brussels IIa regulations. These conventions require the courts of contracting countries to order the return of a child who is taken to such a country without the consent of both parents.
Financial settlements on divorce in France
Generally, property that you acquired during your marriage is held in common (régime légal de communauté réduite aux acquêts). Property owned prior to your marriage will not be considered part of your joint assets. This means that you can expect an equal split of anything you earned during the time you were married, with the exception of donations and legacies.
This split of assets applies even if only one of you worked during the marriage.
If you are left significantly worse off by the divorce, you may be awarded compensation (prestation compensatoire). This compensation is typically paid as a lump sum, and commonly occurs where one spouse stayed home to look after children while the other went out to work. It aims to financially compensate you if there is a disparity in your respective living standards following the breakdown of your marriage.
2013 figures show that compensation was paid in around one in five French divorce cases.
This compensation is distinct from a split of your joint assets, and also separate from ant other financial awards the court makes during the course of the divorce process (for example, interim financial support you may receive if you can’t meet your needs during the divorce process (devoir de secours)).
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