Getting divorced in France
A guide on how to file for divorce in France, including steps on preparing documentation, conditions for separating, and what to expect.
You may get a divorce (divorce) in France as long as either you or your spouse is resident in France. If you are resident in different countries, it is best to apply to the court in the country where your children live, or, if you have no children, where your main property is. If you are in a same-sex relationship which was formalised outside of France, the French courts may not be able to dissolve the bond and you may have to return to the country where you got married to complete the paperwork. Here is a guide to the divorce application process and paperwork to file when a marriage ends.
Conditions for divorce in France
If both spouses consent to the divorce and reach an agreement on all relevant issues (including division of assets and childcare) this is called divorce par consentement mutuel (divorce by mutual consent) and no further reasons need be given. An agreement should be drawn up by a lawyer (avocat) and signed by both parties before the documentation is presented to the high court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).
Where a couple agree that a divorce should occur, but cannot arrange a settlement, a divorce accepté (divorce accepted) is possible. In this case, a judge will rule on any contentious issues. French judges will almost always try to get the couple to come to an agreement, and this can slow the whole process down.
Finally, either spouse may file for divorce without the consent of the other. If the other spouse continues to refuse to accept the divorce, a judge will rule on the case and set the terms. Only in this rare instance is it necessary to show grounds for a divorce.
These cases fall into two categories: a separation of two or more years (altération définitive du lien conjugal), or an 'at fault' divorce (divorce pour faute). In this last case, the spouse filing for divorce must prove that the other party caused the break up of the marriage, typically through desertion, adultery, and/or cruelty. In this case, the court will usually find one party or the other at fault and may award damages.
Processing a French divorce
To kickstart processes, paperwork must be lodged with the court in the district in which one or both parties live. Find the contact details of your local mairie (town hall).
A divorce par consentement mutuel is the quickest and simplest form of divorce, and can take as little as a month to process. A period of three to six months from start to finish is more common. A court hearing is the final step in the process, and both spouses must be present.
A notary (notaire) will typically be charged with overseeing the division of assets. The standard fee is 1 percent of the total value of assets handled. For example, if a couple are together worth EUR 1.0mn but only EUR 400,000 of that is property held in common and thus divided, the charge would be EUR 4,000.
The court may request whatever evidence it deems necessary. Expect to have to provide:
- Residency permit information;
- Family record book (livret de famille) – you may not have this unless you got married or had a child in France;
- Formal petition for divorce – you can view samples of these letters online (French only);
- Agreement on how to deal with issues arising;
- Pre-nuptial agreement (contrat de mariage), if one exists;
- Income, property and tax information;
- Information about any children.
Standard division of property
As a default, property acquired during a marriage is held in common (régime légal de communauté réduite aux acquêts) while property acquired outside the marriage is not. This means that property owned prior to the marriage, gifts and inheritances will normally not be considered as part of the joint assets. Joint assets are typically divided equally.
Compensation (prestation compensatoire) is commonly given where one spouse is left significantly worse off by the divorce (for example, if one spouse worked and the other cared for children of the marriage). Joint assets are not counted towards this calculation. The compensation is typically paid as a lump sum, and 25–35 percent of the wealthier spouse's income is often the figure selected.
However, if you lived in another country for a significant period (typically one year or more) immediately after getting married, it is rare but possible that the court may decide that the standard property rules of that country apply.
French residency and citizenship
As France is an European Union (EU) member country, EU citizens will of course continue to be able to live and work in France without requiring a permit after divorce.
If you are from outside the EU and your residency permit is tied to your spouse's job, divorce may affect your ability to live and work in France. See our guide to French visas and permits to see if you can apply for another French residency permit.
If you have your own residency permit (this will typically be the case if you have a job), your residency will not be affected. Read more about French work permits.
Although marrying a French citizen does not automatically confer French citizenship upon you, divorcing a French citizen can slow down an ongoing application for French citizenship. Read more about getting French citizenship.
Both parents are expected to be responsible for and provide maintenance for their children after divorce. They also both maintain certain rights, and can expect to be consulted on important decisions, including where the child lives.
In practice, courts are often keen to establish stability so where a child will live most of the time (résidence habituelle) is key. Joint custody where a child moves from one home to another regularly (eg. every few days, weeks or months) is possible but not common.
A non-custodial parent should expect to pay living costs to the custodial parent until the child is 18 or leaves full time education, even if they earn significantly less than the custodial parent. A sample calculator is available online (French only).
By default, spouses return to the names they were known by before the marriage, and children keep the name they had during the marriage. It is possible to vary this pattern, but this should be arranged as part of the divorce settlement and authorised by the judge. For example, for both spouses, their name after the divorce should be mentioned in the divorce papers and ratified by the judge, whatever it is. By default, the judge will assume that each will go back to their earlier name. Following this, there should be no need for any additional paperwork to apply for changing your passport or licence.
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Updated from 2011.
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