Knowing in which country to apply for divorce
Depending on your nationality, the nationality of your partner, the country where you got married,…
If you want to end your civil marriage in France, you can choose between several types of divorce procedures. It is essential to prepare well in advance and to be assisted by a lawyer specialising in private international law if an element of your marital situation involves another country.
Verified by Maître Hansu Yalaz on 30/05/2022
Before you initiate a French divorce, it is important to know the different options you have and try to find the one that will be the most advantageous for you.
If you currently live in France and want to divorce, it is recommended to first check whether it would be possible to divorce in another country; for example, your home country, and whether this would be more advantageous for you.
You will need to act quickly, because if you are able to divorce in more than one country, the divorce will usually take place in the country in which the application is first made.
If you are involved in divorce proceedings in France, here are a few things to bear in mind:
In the context of French divorce procedures, you will encounter the following professionals and institutions.
In France, regardless of the type of divorce procedure chosen, each spouse must hire a lawyer. Their role is to advise their client throughout the procedure, to communicate with the other lawyer and to take legal action.
Spouses are not allowed to choose the same lawyer, nor may their lawyers belong to the same law firm: their addresses must be different.
The “huissier de justice” may be called upon to intervene at the request of your lawyer for various reasons, for example:
If you have an amicable divorce and/or have property to share, a notary or “notaire” will be involved in the divorce procedure.
The “juge aux affaires familiales” is the magistrate who deals with all matters relating to family law.
They sit within the court known as the “tribunal judiciaire”.
With the exception of a specific type of amicable divorce, known as a divorce by mutual consent by lawyer’s agreement or “divorce par consentement mutuel par acte d’avocat”, all divorce procedures must be initiated through a lawyer before the “tribunal judiciaire”.
The application for divorce must be made:
In the event of an amicable divorce before a judge, the court that has jurisdiction can be the court where either one of the spouses reside.
The court of appeal or “cour d’appel” can be called upon if one of the spouses does not agree with a decision made by a judge. They can challenge the decision by beginning a procedure called an appeal or “appel”. This is done through their lawyer.
The case will then be judged a second time, this time by the “cour d’appel”, which will check that there has been no error of law before confirming or amending the decision of the “juge aux affaires familiales”.
“Associations” can give you free legal advice if you want to check certain information before or during the divorce proceedings.
Divorce procedures generally involve the following costs:
If your resources are limited, you could ask for some or all of these costs to be covered, by asking for financial help known as legal aid or “aide juridictionnelle”. In particular, it might be able to cover your lawyer’s fees, the costs of the “huissier de justice” and other costs related to legal procedures.
There are two types of amicable divorce procedures. These procedures are much faster than contentious procedures.
To engage an amicable divorce procedure, the spouses must fully agree on the principle of the divorce and all its terms, which include in particular:
This procedure is usually the quickest. A judge does not have to be involved, unless one of the children of the spouses requests a hearing with the judge.
This procedure is not recognised by many countries, including within the European Union.
If you need to have your French divorce recognised in another country, for example your country of origin:
The procedure is as follows:
These procedures are the fastest and can take between 15 days and a few months, depending on the complexities of your divorce.
If you and your spouse agree on all the arrangements of the divorce but a “divorce par consentement mutuel par acte avocat” is not an option for you; for example, if it is not recognised in a country where you must have it recognised, you will need initiate a procedure called a “requête” before the family court judge known as the “juge aux affaires familiales (JAF)”.
You will need to follow the same procedure as the “divorce par consentement mutuel par acte avocat” to obtain a divorce “convention”.
Then, your lawyer will send the “convention” accompanied by the “état liquidatif” to the “juge aux affaires familiales” and ask them to sign it. This is the procedure known as “requête”. This can be done two ways:
The judge can then validate your agreement and grant your divorce. The procedure is usually quick, without you having to go to court to testify.
In addition to the time scheduled for drafting the divorce “convention”, it is usually necessary to allow between two and six months to obtain the validation of the judge depending on the location of the court involved.
You will need to initiate a contentious divorce procedure if you and your spouse do not agree on the principle of divorce and/or its terms, which may include:
There are three contentious divorce procedures in France, all of which take place before the family court judge, known as the “juge aux affaires familiales (JAF)”.
The divorce procedure known as an accepted divorce or “divorce accepté” can be used if you both agree on the principle of divorce but do not agree on its terms.
Before initiating a divorce procedure with the judge, you must sign a document called an acceptance statement or “procès-verbal d’acceptation” which states that you both agree to the principle of the divorce.
The divorce procedure known as an for-fault divorce or “divorce pour faute” can be used in the event of serious misconduct by one of the spouses; for example, in cases of domestic abuse or adultery.
You do not need your spouse’s consent to apply for this divorce.
The divorce procedure known as a divorce for definitive alteration of the matrimonial relationship or “divorce pour altération définitive du lien conjugal” can be used if you are able to prove that you have not lived with your spouse for at least one year.
You do not need your spouse’s consent to apply for this divorce.
If you have not lived together for less than a year, you can still initiate this procedure to start the process.
The judge will then postpone the case until you can prove these 12 months of separation.
Documents that can serve as proof of 12 months of separation are documents that can prove your place of residence, such as rent receipts or electricity or gas bills in your name.
Unfortunately, you will need patience, as these procedures in France can take an extremely long time, sometimes many years.
It is very difficult to give a precise duration of how long contentious divorce procedures in France will last. In general, they take several years, and up to ten years if an appeal is made by one of the spouses every time a court decision is granted.
Each time the judge grants a decision, each spouse has the option of lodging an appeal or “appel” to the appeal court or “cour d’appel”. As a general rule, they have a period of one month to lodge an “appel”, or two months if they reside abroad.
Unfortunately, this can significantly slow down the procedure because:
It is essential to prepare well in advance, if possible before you leave your spouse, while you still have access to the documents.
Below are the types documents that need to be compiled:
Regardless of the divorce procedure chosen, you will need to hire a lawyer, ensuring that it is not that same lawyer as your spouse, and that they do not belong to the same law firm as your spouse’s lawyer.
If an element of your marital situation involves another country, it is highly recommended that they are a specialist in private international law.
The rules applicable to the division of property in the event of a divorce is called the marital regime or “régime matrimonial”.
The French judge may apply a French or foreign “régime matrimonial” depending on your situation.
If you have signed a marriage contract, this usually specifies the “régime matrimonial” chosen.
However, in some cases, your initial “régime matrimonial” may change; for example, if you changed your place of habitual residence more than ten years ago.
This can depend on many criteria, for example:
These rules vary depending on the country concerned:
Your lawyer will be able to help you understand the rules that apply in your situation.
If this is the case, the process will usually be simpler.
There are several types of “régimes matrimoniaux” in France.
If you have not signed a marriage contract, the regime that applies is that of joint ownership reduced to the property acquired after the marriage or “régime de la communauté légale”, also known as the “communauté réduite aux acquêts”:
In this case, in the event of a divorce, the joint assets are generally divided into two equal shares.
If a foreign “régime matrimonial” applies, your lawyer will have to demonstrate to the French judge how to apply it for the division of your assets.
They must provide proof of the “régime matrimonial”; for example, by obtaining a document from a lawyer from the country concerned, such as:
Your lawyer may be able to help you determine the information that this document must contain. This may include, for example:
The divorce proceedings officially begin when your lawyer, or your spouse’s lawyer, sends an official request for divorce to a family judge or “juge aux affaires familiales”. This is known as lodging a divorce petition or “assignation en divorce”.
By notifying the “juge aux affaires familiales” of the “assignation”, the lawyer may choose to request of them, if they deem it necessary:
Following the “assignation en divorce”, the judge will set up an initial hearing or “audience” with the spouse’s lawyers, usually within two or three months.
In the event of an emergency, for example in the event of domestic violence or the risk of child abduction, the lawyer may initiate a procedure called a “à bref délai” which allows a hearing date to be obtained sooner.
The spouse requesting the divorce must hire a legal professional called a “huissier de justice” to notify the other spouse about the “assignation en divorce”. This is called a “notification”.
This is done through a lawyer.
This is an essential step for the divorce procedure to be officially initiated.
Once divorce a divorce procedure has been initiated, debates between the parties will mainly take place in writing.
Each party will take turns drafting, with the help of their lawyer, a document called “conclusions” then sending them to the judge.
“Conclusions” may be necessary at different stages of the procedure:
These debates and the exchange of “conclusions” can be particularly difficult to experience, especially for a person who has survived domestic abuse.
This is often when post-separation abuse continues and the perpetrators of abuse manipulate the system using specific strategies to make accusations against the victim, including obtaining testimonies from people around them.
You can establish a strategy with your lawyer to find out how to respond to these possible attacks.
Each lawyer takes turns in drafting their own “conclusions”. They usually have a period of two or three months to write them and then send them to the judge before the deadline.
It is then the other lawyer’s turn to write their “conclusions”, taking into account the elements written by the other party.
These exchanges can continue like this for months or even years.
This is your opportunity to explain your version of the facts and ask for what you want to obtain at the end of the divorce, or respond to the other party’s “conclusions”:
This is the opportunity for the other party to present their version of the facts and ask for what they want to obtain at the end of the divorce, or respond to your “conclusions”:
Receiving the other party’s “conclusions” can be the most traumatic moment in divorce procedure in France. This is especially the case if your ex-partner chooses specific strategies used by perpetrators of abuse and makes false accusations against you.
You can find support from an “association” specialised in helping victims of violence or by consulting a psychologist.
During the drafting of the “conclusions”, each party may formally request documents from the other party to support their arguments.
A procedure called “sommation de communiquer” is then carried out, in which the requested documents are listed.
If you receive a “sommation de communiquer”, it’s important to respond by providing the documents you have, or by explaining to your lawyer why you don’t have them.
If, after receiving a “sommation de communiquer”, your spouse refuses to provide you with a document relating to an important element, such as evidence of their resources, you can ask your lawyer to carry out a specific procedure known as “conclusions d’incident aux fins de communication de pièces”.
You must have some proof of the existence of the document in question before this procedure can be carried out.
This procedure will oblige your spouse to provide you with this document. Otherwise, they may expose themselves to the following risks:
At the same time as drafting the “conclusions”, lawyers may attempt to negotiate confidentially on the spouses’ behalf in an attempt to reach an agreement.
This can be done at any time until the final judgement is given and confirmed.
In contentious divorce procedures, there are generally several exchanges of “conclusions” between lawyers before the closing date set by the judge.
The judge can pronounce the closure of the debates under two circumstances:
This is an optional hearing which is only organised if one of the lawyers has requested it at the time of the “assignation en divorce”.
This appointment usually takes place two to three months after the “assignation en divorce”.
This hearing may enable the judge to:
At the end of the “audience d’orientation”, the judge will draft a document called the “ordonnance d’orientation” detailing their decisions.
If you do not agree with one or more of the judge’s decisions, you can challenge them by lodging an appeal within a maximum period of 15 days.
Following their appointment, the legal expert known as the notary or “notaire” will generally have a period of six months to draft a report detailing the assets and debts of the spouses.
This procedure usually unfolds in the following way:
At the end of the designated time period, the “notaire” will send their report to the judge, regardless of whether or not the spouses have reached an agreement.
If you did not request the appointment of a “notaire” at the time of the “assignation en divorce”, this step can also be carried out after the divorce has been definitively granted.
After receiving the final “conclusions”, the judge will fix a date for a hearing called an “audience de plaidoirie”, during which each lawyer can quickly set out their arguments.
Spouses are not allowed to speak at this hearing, and their presence is not compulsory.
At the end of the “audience”, the judge will formally end the debates between the parties. This is called “clôture des débats”. The judge will also indicate the period within which they will make their decision, which is usually one month.
The judge may decide to grant the divorce or to reject it.
They may also make a decision on certain requests from the parties.
However, it is possible that they may not decide on certain points relating to the division of assets and liabilities or “liquidation du régime matrimonial”. In this case, the parties will have to initiate a new procedure called a summons to divide assets or “assignation en liquidation partage” with the judge responsible for the division of assets. This procedure is explained below.
Each spouse will receive the decision of the judge called the divorce judgement or “jugement de divorce” by letter from the court.
Once the judge has granted the divorce, one of the spouses must notify the other via a justice system officer known as a “huissier de justice”.
This step is very important because it will enable the eventual forced execution of the divorce judgement; for example, if your ex-spouse does not end up paying a financial contribution known as a “pension alimentaire”, the sum of money known as a “prestation compensatoire”, or in the event of non-compliance with child custody arrangements.
If your spouse is abroad, you must hire a “huissier de justice” in France, who will take the necessary steps to notify them of the decision in the other country.
If you do not agree with the judge’s decision, you can challenge it by lodging an appeal through your lawyer before the court of appeal or “cour d’appel”.
You normally have a period of one month from notification of the decision by the “huissier de justice”, two months if you are abroad. The other party may also lodge an “appel” within the same time limits.
However, if notification of the decision has not been made by a “huissier de justice”, the time limit is increased to two years.
Once the divorce has been definitively granted, your lawyer will be responsible for recording the divorce on your birth and marriage certificates.
If you were born and/or married abroad, it is highly recommended to have your divorce recognised in your country of origin.
However, if you are a political refugee in France, you must not contact the authorities of your home country. Instead, you can contact an organisation offering free services called an “association” specialised in the rights of refugees.
If the family judge has not decided on the division of certain assets in the “jugement de divorce”, you will need to follow the below steps :
Step 1 if the judge has already appointed a notary or “notaire” to carry out the division of assets or “liquidation”
The parties must make an appointment with the designated “notaire” to try to reach an amicable agreement.
The process is similar to that described above.
Following these exchanges:
If one of the parties refuses to participate: the “notaire” will write a document called “procès-verbal de carence” or “PV de carence” which will allow you to ask the judge to decide on the division of assets by initiating the legal procedure described in Step 2
Step 2 (in case of disagreement): starting new legal procedure called a summons to divide assets or “assignation en liquidation partage”
In the event of disagreement on the division of assets or “liquidation”, one of the lawyers will need to make an application called a summons to divide assets or “assignation en liquidation partage”. This application is made the judge in charge of the division of assets called “juge de la liquidation”. This procedure will allow the judge to make a decision concerning your assets.
The steps in this procedure are as follows:
When can this procedure be initiated?
You must wait for the definitive divorce judgment to begin this procedure.
How long will this procedure take?
This procedure usually lasts between one and three years.
At the end of the procedure, if one of the spouses lodges an appeal or “appel” against the judge’s decision, it will take one to two additional years.
In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.
The “Centres d'Information sur les Droits des Femmes et des Familles (CIDFF)” helps the general public, especially women, in many areas such as: legal rights, health, employment searches, training, business creation, and even childcare.
The centres called “point-justice” bring together various organisations that give you legal advice depending on your situation, and sometimes help you with your administrative procedures.
“Femmes Informations Juridiques Internationales Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (FIJI)” is an organization specializing in international family law.
A lawyer's role is to defend your rights before, during and after legal proceedings.
While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.
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