How to Divorce A French Guy in a French Court
Have you committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with and marrying a Frenchman you met on the Champs Elysées? Are you American, Canadian, English or other anglophone? Do you live in France and now need to get a divorce? Well, the first bad news is that the rate of divorce for bi-national couplings that involves a french person and a westerner are statistically off the charts – but you probably already know this. Many expats getting divorced in France find themselves in the same situation in France, having to navigate the French courts to get a divorce from the sexy Frenchman they have now fallen out of love with.
Why is this so that the divorce rate for Franco American and Anglo-franco marriages is so high? Nobody, to my knowledge, has done the research yet but it probably has something to do with the Gaullist belle mere who believes that only a french woman (or man) is good enough for her offspring – and maybe she is right.
This is the last thing you need to hear. That you were never good enough to begin with. But you should have seen the handwriting on the wall. You probably have been the butt of their intra-familial jokes for the duration of your marriage on account of that ridiculous anglophone accented French you speak and the fact that you cannot cook like a proper french woman. And look at what you are wearing? Your ghastly sense of style is probably your biggest shortcoming and so you knew, or ought to have known that you never really fit in.
And you probably did know; but you were not that happy irrespective of the mockery. You had your own issues with French culture and French people and french things. It is the ennuie that probably does it; the nostalgia; the yearning for, the remembrance of things past and familiar that you once fled back home. And this is a paradox because you love France but you also hate it and the demise of your marriage did not help.
And then it is ironic because when your friends and family back home imagine you finding love in Paris (with a frenchman!) it is almost too much to even bear. The jealousy they feel towards you for finding love in the City of Lights could create enough natural energy to power a transatlantic flight from Paris to San Francisco. It is that palpable.
The reality is that living in France takes grit. Yes, it is amazing when it is going well but it can and does also get depressing, frustrating, isolating, hard and grey sometimes then you add the normal hardships of marriage and then you can start to figure out why these marriages don’t work. And, of course, don’t forget the fundamental disdain that your French spouse feels for your country. No other country in the world is as good as France. And no other country in the world is as culturally important as France. And if you are American? Well, I mean, for the French, what else needs to be said about a country that would elect Donald Trump as its president?
So the divorces are all but inevitable, if for no other reason because it was never a marriage of equals. And now you are terrified because you imagine the cauchemar that awaits you when going through the administrative process. You are terrified when you consider the hell you are going to have to endure with that because you remember too well what it is like dealing with the French administration just getting your carte de séjour renewed as an example.
Don’t worry. Getting divorced in France is often actually a lot easier than getting divorced in North America or even UK. And it is a lot cheaper too. For example, the notion of ALIMONY is largely non-existent. You pay a property settlement that is based on either a contract or equitable principles. But you don’t usually have this monthly spousal support payment that can plague North American ex spouses sometimes for the rest of their lives post-divorce. For another thing, new laws that were recently enacted allows the divorce process – when it is uncontested – to proceed without a judge. So there is no waiting and backlog for a simple uncontested situation.
French divorces are also cheaper and this is because French law is based on Civil Law principles rather than Common Law ones. This adversarial nature of the common law system where you have all these lawyers conducting all this discovery and doing all these motions racks up a lot of money for divorcing couples. But under the French system, the judge is the trier of fact and there is no adversarial proceeding in the divorce process so to divorce your Frenchman husband at most the judge will question you separately for a few minutes to make sure that the marriage is caput and then it is on to deciding the property settlement. That part is tricky.
So there are a couple of specific things to keep in mind. First, in the US you have two property division schemes: equitable distribution or community property. In UK, it is pretty much community property even though they don’t call it that. They claim that marriage has no “proprietary” effect. In theory that means that nobody is entitled to anything just merely based on the fact that they married each other. But keep in mind that London is the “Divorce Capital of the World,” and this reputation was forged because of the way that judges routinely divide property in high asset cases.
In France, there are no big money divorce cases like there are in America and the UK. Not generally. Of course rich people get divorced but the property settlement is going to be done in a very…administratively correct way, if you will, if there is property involved. And this is where the headaches will occur in the French system. In the property division in the French Divorce.
First you are going to need what is called a notaire to “liquidate the matrimonial regime.” The matrimonial regime refers to the type of contract you have with your spouse. There appears to be 4 different possibilities:
- Communauté de biens réduite aux acquêts which boils down to a type of joint ownership of property acquired after marriage.
- régime de séparation de biens pure et simple which boils down to a separate property rights and interests. Nothing is owned jointly between the spouses.
- Communauté universelle which boils down to a pool of all assets including inheritances and gifts and bequests received before and after marriage. This also includes responsibility for each other’s debts.
- Séparation et Communauté mixte which boils down to all separate property brought to the marriage becomes joint after as in a community property scheme.
- Sans regime this boils down to having no contract at all. What happens in this case is you would have to consult with the notaire who would analyse a property settlement based on a “fairness” principle which you would then take to the judge.
To divorce the frenchman, the notaire is a mandatory party to the action but do not conflate notaire with notary. It is not the same thing:
Mandatory whenever there is a property (land, apartment, house), the intervention of the notary will be a valuable aid in all other cases. The law provided its presence because it is the public officer specialist in family law, balance and security guarantor A person who guarantees one of the parties to a contract that the contract will be performed in the event of failure of the other party. There is a personal guarantee when the commitment consists in merely replacing the failing party.Read more of the contract. It protects bad agreements.
How does the notaire disentangle you from the frenchman? He or she analyses all the numbers and the contracts or lack thereof. He looks at assets and debts and titles, etc. Then he gets the parties to agree (its called negotiation) and then he prepares an “instrument of liquidation of the marital regime” which the parties turn in to the court.
No divorce ruling can be handed down until the spouses have provided the judge with an instrument of liquidation of their matrimonial regime, the planned division of their property and settlement of all the consequences of their separation: division of property and debts, maintenance payments, financial support, and children’s residence.
Once all that is settled, then you can get your judgment of divorce from your Frenchman. It’s not all that difficult.