When it comes to divorce in France, there is a lot to think about. For example, if you or your spouse are French citizens or residents, you will likely need to file for divorce in France. Although this is rarely an emotionally easy process, recent changes in French legislation have made the administrative process relatively simple. You do not have to visit court or spend a small fortune.

An Overview Of Divorce In France

According to the most recent OECD data, the divorce rate in France is in parallel with the European Union average, at 1.9 divorces per 1000 people. Furthermore, as in other OECD countries, approximately 18% of French weddings involve a divorcee. In recent decades, these rates have remained relatively stable. However, when we consider that marriage is becoming increasingly unpopular in France. So, we see that the proportion of divorces has increased.

In terms of precise numbers, 128,043 divorces were legally pronounced in France in 2016, compared to 44,738 in 1972. As of 2017, you can divorce by mutual consent in front of a notary rather than a judge. The majority of people are pleased with this significant shift in the process. Today, approximately 45% of marriages in France end in divorce, with over 55% of these couples opting for the new, simpler process of mutual consent divorce.

It’s also worth noting that in France, women initiate 75% of divorce proceedings. Women often benefit in these cases, according to statistics: in two-thirds of cases, they are granted residence in the family household, and 80% of mothers are granted primary guardianship over their children. Infidelity (in one-third of divorce cases), ‘selfishness’ (such as in terms of lack of support or affection), and abusive behaviour are the most commonly cited causes of divorce in France. Other reasons for divorce, cited in about 10% of cases, are incompatibility, financial issues, and in-laws.

The Legal Grounds For Divorce In France

In the event of a divorce involving people of different nationalities, lawyers must determine whether bilateral agreements or EU laws apply. To determine which court to summon, they will consider specific information such as nationality, residence, and the location of the children. In general, you can file for divorce in France if one of you is French, if at least one of the spouses lives in France, or if no other foreign tribunal can hear your case. More information can be found at Info droits étrangers.

If both spouses agree to divorce, mutual consent can complete the process. However, if one party refuses to divorce, the process can be significantly slowed, and the cost increases. In this case, you can file for divorce for fault (pour faute) or a final severance of marital connections (altération définitive du lien conjugal). So, if a divorce is not amicable but contentious, the proceedings get lengthy (four years or more) and expensive. An overview of the various legal forms of divorce in France is provided below.

Divorce By Mutual Consent

Mutual consent divorce (par consentement mutuel) is a friendly divorce in which both spouses agree to dissolve the marriage and its consequences. Although the procedure does not take place in court, both parties require legal representation. The spouses’ lawyers draught a mutual agreement (convention) and have it notarised. This is the cheapest and the quickest way to divorce, as well as the most common.

It is important to remember, however, that this type of divorce does not include any court proceedings. So, it may not be recognised in certain countries. As a result, before proceeding, confirm the legal requirements for divorce with your country’s embassy.

Acceptance Of The Principle Of Marital Breakdown Leads To Divorce

In this scenario, the spouses agree to divorce but disagree on the divorce process’s consequences (pour acceptation du principe de la rupture du mariage). They are not required to explain why they divorced. Each, however, must have legal representation. Either one spouse or both spouses file for divorce. The case must be heard by a family court judge (juge aux affaires familiales). If the parties reach an agreement during the proceedings, they can choose to divorce by mutual consent.

Divorce On The Grounds Of Fault

A divorce for cause necessitates court proceedings. A judge must find that one or both parties violated their marriage duties and obligations. The offending spouse can be demanded to pay a portion of the costs of the proceedings. The judge can grant a divorce with shared blame if both spouses are at fault. A flaw can be:

  • Adultery (Although, if the spouses have already separated, this is rarely considered a fault.)
  • Insufficient marital support (for example, in the case of illness)
  • A lack of regard (this can include physical or verbal violence or ill-treatment)
  • A rupture in the relationship (communauté de vie). For example, when a spouse leaves the house and refuses to contribute to joint living expenses.

The person filing a lawsuit and seeking compensation must establish the facts asserted against the defendant’s spouse. Any method of proof (bailiff’s report, written testimonies, correspondence, etc.) may be used. While this procedure was used in 40% of divorces in 2000, it is now only used in 6% of cases.

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Divorce Based On The Irreversible Severing Of Marital Ties

If you want to divorce, but your spouse has not done anything wrong, you can file a divorce petition for the final divorce. To initiate proceedings on your own, you must be separated from your spouse for at least one year. This one-year delay is unnecessary if both partners jointly file for divorce. The case is heard in a local family court. You must provide evidence of a divorce, such as separate utility bills. This type of divorce accounts for 10-13% of all divorces in France.

What Should You Do If Your Visa Is Dependent On Your Marriage?

Divorce may have an impact on your stay in France if you have a marriage-based visa (known as the long-stay temporary private and familial visa). If you are not married to a French citizen anymore, the state has the authority to revoke or refuse to renew your authorisation. But, after four years of cohabitation, you are in a better position because your residence permit will not be jeopardised as a result of your divorce. There are a few exceptions where your authorisation to remain in France will not be revoked, regardless of the length of your union, most notably if you:

  • have been the victim of domestic violence 
  • had a deceased French spouse 
  • can justify other long-lasting and stable ties to France
  • had a child in France after your arrival and contributed to their upbringing 

Even if none of the preceding scenarios applies to you, you may still want to divorce a French national. Before filing for divorce, if you have been married for a minimum of three years, you should apply for a 10-year residence permit. So, you will not be forced to leave the country following a divorce if you have this permit. You should apply for French citizenship if you are a resident of France for a minimum of five years.

Divorce In France: Step-by-Step 

The process of getting a divorce in France will differ greatly depending on whether the divorce is amicable or contentious. Different regions and courts, for example, may have different rules regarding mediation obligations. Below is a general overview of the divorce process in France, but for more information, you should always consult with a local family lawyer.

Find A Lawyer

Whichever type of divorce you are going through, each spouse must have their own legal representation. The website of the Conseil national des barreaux allows you to look for a family lawyer near you. If you do not speak French well, you can use the search to find a lawyer who does. To establish payment terms, you must sign a fee agreement (convention d’honoraires) with your lawyer. The starting rate is around €200 per hour. If you do not possess enough money to cover these costs, you can apply for legal aid (aide juridictionnelle).

The Basic Steps For An Amicable Divorce

Once you have both retained legal counsel, the lawyers will ensure that both parties reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce. So this includes issues such as parental authority, child and spousal support, and property division. You are not required to explain why you are divorcing. The following are the next steps:

  • The lawyers draught a document (convention) that must include the spouses’ mutual agreement regarding the divorce and its consequences.
  • Each lawyer sends a copy to their respective client, who must wait 15 days before signing.
  • The convention is signed in three copies, one of which is filed with the notary within seven days of the signature. This filing procedure costs approximately €50.
  • The divorce is finalised once the notary has thoroughly checked and filed the paperwork.
  • Each spouse’s and any children’s état civil or civil status (for example, any relevant official documents, including birth records) must then be updated to reflect the divorce. Your lawyers will forward this request to the appropriate town hall. If the marriage took place outside of the country, they must contact the Service central d’état civil.

Taking The Matter To Court

If the spouses cannot agree on divorce terms, the case is heard in a local family court. A divorce petition (assignment en divorce) occurs when one spouse starts the process, and a bailiff is required to contact the other spouse. When the spouses initiate this procedure jointly, both lawyers must draught a joint request (requête conjointe). Your lawyers will also assist you in determining the type of contentious divorce you are pursuing.

The Preliminary Hearing

In court, the preliminary hearing (l’audience d’orientation) takes place. Its purpose is to file the case with the court and establish a timetable for the proceedings. At this point, a decision is made on whether to:

  • To avoid costly court proceedings, the parties can reach an agreement and switch to a participatory procedure (procédure participative). This step will essentially revert the process to an amicable agreement.
  • The case will enter a pre-trial procedure (also known as mise en état), during which an investigation will be conducted under the supervision of a judge.
  • The case will be heard immediately.
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The Pre-Trial Procedure

Each spouse must prepare their case in collaboration with their lawyer. This is known as the mise en état. The lawyers present their client’s arguments, which are accompanied by supporting documents, which are electronically filed with the court registry. This hearing is held virtually, so the spouses are not required to attend. A pre-trial judge reviews these exchanges and submissions during the hearing and can dismiss or impose deadlines on the case if either spouse does not comply with the requirements. The judge then closes the file so that neither party can add any new documents and sets the hearing date.

The Hearing And Ruling

On the day of the hearing (also known as l’audience de plaidoirie), each spouse must be represented by a different lawyer. The spouses are not required to be present. Lawyers can either plead or file their cases. The judge announces the date of the final ruling at the end of the hearing. On that day, the judge issues the divorce decree and rules on all necessary requests. A judge may refuse a divorce if, for instance, no responsibility is proven in a fault-based divorce.

After The Ruling: Appeal Or Acquiescence

Within one month, either spouse may file an appeal against the ruling. Their attorney must then file an appeal with the Appeals Court. So, if the spouses do not want to contest the decision of the judge, they can sign an act of acquiescence (acte d’acquiescement). The procedure is simplified because each spouse declares that they accept the judgement. The divorce decree is then submitted to the appropriate public administrations to update each person’s civil status.

The Cost Of A Divorce In France

The cost of going through with a divorce in France varies greatly depending on the type of divorce (amicable or contentious) and the fees of your lawyer. Below are some of the highest costs to remember:

  • The average rate (hourly) for a lawyer is around €200, but this can differ greatly depending on the complexity of the case, reputation, and even your financial situation. If you do not possess enough money to pay their fees, you can apply for full or partial legal aid. It’s also worth checking to see if there are any free legal consultations in your area.
  • If one of the spouses is proven to be at fault, they will be ordered to pay the other spouse’s legal fees.
  • There are also only minor administrative costs, such as filing the divorce with a notary, which costs about €50.
  • If you have shared property, notary fees and taxes will amount to 1.8% of the gross value. In addition, you must pay the French Treasury 2.5% of the value as partition duty.
  • Mediation sessions can be mandatory or optional, and they are frequently based on financial means. As a result, they can cost as little as €2 or as much as €50 per session.
  • An amicable divorce can cost anywhere between €1,000 and €4,000. Meanwhile, expect to spend between €2,000 and €8,000 on a contentious divorce.

Things To Think About When Filing For Divorce In France

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Custody Of Children And Child Support

Even if you divorce in France, your parental rights and duties remain legally binding as long as your children are minors. If you and your ex-spouse disagree on issues such as education, daily life, or custody, a family court must resolve the dispute. Minors can speak in court if the judge determines that they are mature and capable.

A child’s residence can be agreed upon amicably by the spouses, or a judge in family court must provide a ruling on it. As a result, your child may alternately live with each of you. In addition, the child may have sole residency with one parent and visitation rights with the other. If you live with your child and move, you must notify the other parent within one month or face a large fine and even jail time.

In the event of a divorce, both parents retain parental authority (autorité parentale). However, if it is for the betterment of the child, a judge may grant sole parental authority to one parent. In this case, they established strict guidelines for the other parent’s right to visit and host the child. This usually means that one parent gets custody of the children for every alternative weekend and during part of the school holidays.

If the child lives with a parent (usually the mother), the other usually pay for child support. The sum paid should cover the child’s basic needs (food, clothing, hobbies, etc.) as well as any unusual expenses. Either the spouses agree, or a judge determines the amount based on their salaries and the needs of the child. You can estimate the cost of child support using an online simulator.

Property Division

When a couple divorces in France, they must divide their assets (movable, financial, and real estate). So, a tax is implemented on the net value of the spouses’ shared assets after debts are deducted. This is known as the droit de partage. The sharing fee is €125 for assets worth less than or equal to €5,000. The rate after that is 2.5% of the property value.

The judge who issues the divorce decree decides how to allocate shared property. An agreement can outline this division in an amicable divorce. If the spouses disagree, the judge can appoint a notary to appraise the assets. So, in the case of real estate, a spouse may request to keep the property (a preferential attribution). If this results in an unequal property division, the spouse who receives the property may be required to pay the other a soulte, or a sum to balance this out.

Spousal Maintenance

To compensate for the difference in living standards caused by the divorce, one spouse is frequently required to pay maintenance (prestation compensatoire). They may be required to pay it in the form of a lump sum or an annuity, with the amount determined by the spouses or a family court. This holds true for both amicable and contentious divorces. The total allowance takes into account a variety of factors, including:

  • the marriage’s duration
  • the spouse’s age and health
  • their professional qualifications and status
  • existing and foreseeable rights (e.g., upcoming retirement) and pensions
  • each spouse’s income
  • estimated or foreseeable assets of the spouses, both in income and capital
  • the consequences of one spouse’s professional choices made during their life together

Pension alimentaire, a type of alimony, may also be considered. When one spouse does not have enough money to clothe, feed, and house themselves and their children, a judge can order this payment. This type of allowance requires a monthly contribution.

Alternatives To Getting A Divorce In France

If you are not yet ready to end your marriage, you may want to go for a less drastic form of separation as the initial step toward putting your married life on hold. These measures will allow you to experiment with living without your spouse while avoiding the consequences of divorce.

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Séparation De Corps

The séparation de corps is a separate entity (legal) that allows the spouses to remain married while living apart. This can be established through a private deed (with each person represented by their own lawyer) or a court judgement. Children shared property, and third parties may be affected by the corpse separation. You are still connected by the marriage contract, which includes your fidelity obligations and succession rights. If the spouses resume living together, divorce or one of them dies, the legal separation ends. This divorce alternative is most common in religious communities where divorce is frowned upon.

Séparation De Fait

This is an unofficial separation with no legal standing. The spouses simply decide not to live together anymore, or one of them leaves the family household. Both parties are, however, legally bound by the obligations and rights of the marriage contract. If the spouses disagree about child support, for example, they can still choose to settle the matter in a family court. In practice, the separation de fait is frequently used as a prelude to divorce. If one person leaves as a result of this separation, their departure may be considered a fault in the context of disputed divorce proceedings.

Going For A Marriage Annulment

An annulment (annulation de mariage) is different from a divorce in the sense that it is retroactive. Legally, the marriage is deemed to have never occurred. The conditions for annulment, on the other hand, are much stricter and can include the following:

  • deception about the spouse’s identity or personal history
  • Where parental consent is required, there is a lack of it.
  • In cases of incest, bigamy, or polygamy, fraudulent marriages (mariage gris) occur when a foreign partner feigns affection in order to gain legal status.

The procedure includes legal proceedings, and the case is heard by a local court (tribunal judiciaire). The time limit for beginning the annulment process differs depending on the reason for the annulment. But, it can be signed up a minimum of 30 years after the wedding day. If one of the partners obtained French citizenship through marriage, that status is in jeopardy, and they may face harsh fines or prison time.

Divorce Mediation

Another method of conflict resolution worth considering before beginning separation or divorce proceedings is familial mediation. In some parts of France, this type of mediation is required on a trial basis. Divorce mediation can be requested by either the couple or a judge.

Divorce mediation is especially recommended if the spouses agree to separate but disagree on the terms. During this time, the couple can discuss their needs and work to resolve the situation. They hope to reach an amicable agreement and avoid costly legal proceedings.

The mediator is a trained professional. So, they have studied law and psychology. They have no decision-making authority in the case but seek to remain objective and find solutions. You can decide whether or not to pursue mediation after the first meeting when the process is explained. You can then benefit from six to ten meetings lasting 1.5 to 2 hours spread out over three to six months.

The initial interview is free, and mediation sessions can be as low as €2, depending on your income. The local CAF (family allowance services) can assist you in scheduling these mediation sessions.

Ending A Civil Partnership

Divorce is more difficult than ending a civil partnership or PACS. Both parties can send a joint letter to the court or notary who registered their partnership requesting the official dissolution of their union via registered mail. They may, however, encounter a disagreement in which only one spouse wishes to end the partnership. So, they must go through a court bailiff in this case (huissier). This procedure will cost approximately €100. If other disagreements arise, such as those involving children, the case must be heard in family court, and legal fees will be assessed. The case is heard in civil or administrative court if the couple does not have children but disagrees over the shared property.

Useful Resources

  • Divorce France – It is an association that coaches and supports individuals before, during, and after a divorce proceeding.
  • FIJI – It is an association which specialises in international family law solely for the protection of women and children.
  • Info droits étrangers – It is an association that provides information and support for foreigners in France,
  • Service public – It is the official website of the French administration service,
  • Conseil national des barreaux – It is the official website of French lawyers, equipped with a directory by specialisation and location.

Notaires.fr – It is the official website for French notaries, which can answer specific questions about your rights and taxation obligations.