Knowing in which country to apply for divorce

Depending on your nationality, the nationality of your partner, the country where you got married, and the country where you usually live, you may have a choice when it comes to the country where you apply for divorce.

Verified by Maître Hansu Yalaz on 09/02/2024

In France, divorce proceedings can be particularly lengthy, sometimes taking up to several years, especially if an element of your situation involves another country, which is known as an “élément d’extranéité” or foreign element.

It is recommended to first check whether it is possible and more advantageous to divorce in another country.

Please note: you must act quickly so your spouse does not apply for a divorce before you in a country you don’t want to divorce in. As a general rule, the country in which an application for divorce is made first will have jurisdiction, i.e. where the divorce proceedings will take place.

Know the facts

There is an “élément d’extranéité” in the following cases:

  • if you are not French
  • if you did not get married in France
  • if your first marital residence was abroad
  • if you do not currently live in France.

If there is an “élément d’extranéité”, your lawyer will have to be very vigilant as the rules are very complex, and an error can have significant consequences.

Make sure that a lawyer in France or abroad does not try to convince you to divorce in their country, even if it is less advantageous, just so they can have you as a client and collect fees from you. For example, you can ask each lawyer to explain clearly what they think they can obtain, the risks this entails and the time that the proceedings may take.

When should you apply for divorce in France?

There are many rules that determine whether you can apply for divorce in France or not. These rules depend, among other things, on your place of residence and nationality.

For example, you can apply for divorce in France if you are in one of these situations:

  • you are French, or your spouse is French
  • France is your place of residence as a couple.

If you are already separated and do not live in the same country, you can apply for divorce in France if you are in one of these situations:

  • if you have children under the age of 18, France must be the country of residence of the parent who has custody of the children
  • if you do not have a child under the age of 18, France must be the country of residence of the spouse who did not initiate the divorce proceedings.

If you are a citizen of a member state of the European Union (with the exception of Denmark), you may also divorce in France if you are in one of these situations:

  • France is the couple’s last usual place of residence and one of you still lives there
  • France is the ordinary place of residence of the person who initiated the divorce proceedings, and who has lived there for at least one year at the time of the application.

A lawyer can help you understand the rules that apply in your situation.

When should you apply for divorce in another country?

The rules governing international divorce vary from country to country.

Some countries have signed bilateral agreements with France; others are signatories to the Brussels II ter Regulation or the Hague Convention. You will find a list of these countries here.

If you are considering applying for divorce in another country, such as the country of your nationality, the country where you got married or the country of your first residence after the marriage, ask a lawyer from that country what rules apply.

What should I do in the event of a conflict of judges or jurisdictions?

You need to act quickly, because if more than one country is competent, the divorce will usually take place in the country where the application for divorce was made first.

If you and your spouse each send a divorce application to different courts, the judges will have to follow a procedure called “litispendance” to find out which one has jurisdiction, i.e. where the divorce proceedings will take place

Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the steps to take to report the “litispendance” to the judge. If your spouse has applied for divorce in another country, it is recommended that you hire a lawyer in that country.

Find support

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.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • They will be able to inform you of your rights and the steps to take. Some centres can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • Contact: you will find the contact details of the “CIDFF” in your area in this directory.
  • 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.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • These centres have many names: “Maison de Justice et du Droit (MJD)”, “Point d’accès au droit (PAD)”, "Relais d’accès au droit (RAD)”, “Antenne de justice (AJ)” or “France services (FS)”.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • You can find a “point-justice” near you :
      • on this online directory.
      • by telephone on 3039 from mainland France and on +33 9 70 82 31 90 from overseas. They will ask you for your postal code and put you in touch with a “point-justice”. Languages available: mainly French.
  • Femmes Informations Juridiques Internationales Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (FIJI)” is an organization specializing in international family law.

    • This service is free.
    • Their team of lawyers will be able to answer your questions and provide you with advice concerning your separation, divorce and/or child custody matters. This is an information service only: they cannot represent you in legal proceedings, you will have to contact a lawyer for this.
    • Languages available: French, English.
    • Contact: by e-mail at [email protected] or by telephone on 04 78 03 33 63 from Monday to Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
  • A lawyer's role is to defend your rights before, during and after legal proceedings.

    • Be careful to choose a good lawyer.
    • Lawyers have fees that you will need to pay.
    • If you have limited resources, you could be eligible for state financial assistance to pay these fees. This is called "aide juridictionnelle".
    • If you have not had a lawyer recommended to you by a professional or a person you trust, you can look for one on this directory which lists all the lawyers in France. You can search by languages spoken and legal specialisation.

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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