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; in the case that you have no children, apply where your main property is. If you are in a same-sex relationship formalized outside of France, French courts may be unable to dissolve the bond. As a result, you may have to return to that country to complete the divorce paperwork abroad. 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 divorce par consentement mutuel (divorce by mutual consent) and no further reasons are necessary. 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 agrees that a divorce should occur but cannot settle, a divorce accepté (divorce accepted) is possible. In this case, a judge will rule on any contentious issues. French judges almost always try to get the couple to come to an agreement. 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 the divorce, a judge rules on the case and sets 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 the other party caused the break-up of the marriage; this is typically through desertion, adultery, 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 the process, lodge paperwork 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. It 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) typically oversees the division of assets. The standard fee is 1% of the total value of assets. For example, if a couple is together worth €1.0mn but only €400,000 of that is property held in common and thus divided, the charge would be €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 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 acquisitions during a marriage is held in common (régime légal de communauté réduite aux acquêts). Property acquired outside the marriage is not. This means that property owned prior to the marriage, gifts and inheritances aree normally not considered as part of the joint assets. Joint assets typically split in half.
Compensation (prestation compensatoire) is common if one spouse is significantly worse off after the divorce; for example, if one spouse worked while the other cared for the children. Joint assets do not count towards this calculation. The compensation is typically a lump-sum payment. The figure is often 25–35% of the wealthier spouse’s income.
However, if you lived in another country for a significant period (typically one year or more) immediately after the marriage, it’s rare but possible that the court decides that the standard property rules of that country apply.
French residency and citizenship
As France is a European Union (EU) country, EU citizens can continue living in France without a permit after divorce.
If you are from outside the EU and your residency permit depends on your spouse’s job, divorce may affect your ability to live in France. See our guide to French visas 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 responsible for their children after divorce. They also both maintain certain rights. Expect consultation 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 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 their names from before the marriage. Children keep the name they had during the marriage. It’s possible to vary this pattern, but this should be arranged as part of the divorce settlement. For example, for both spouses, their name after the divorce should be mentioned in the divorce papers and ratified by the judge. 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 license.