Divorce Options for Expats in France


British Expat in France?

These days more and more English people are moving to France, for either part of each year, or permanently; or are retiring to a home in the sun.

However, the latest UK Government statistics show that forty-two percent of marriages break down, and whilst it is bad enough to go through the upset and trauma of divorce in the UK, the problems for expats living in France are very much worse in many cases.

You feel somehow disconnected from the help you could obtain in the UK, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the friendly local solicitor just down the road, the powers of the English courts and their ability to dispense swift and fair justice, and you really can't face the thought of going to a local lawyer, what with the language problems, the strange laws and customs, and you have heard that it takes years to get a divorce locally.

Under EU law you can, obtain a divorce in France, once you have become an 'habitual resident', (which is open to interpretation by a Judge). A divorce can be granted on either a joint submission by both parties that the marriage has broken down and they both wish for a dissolution, or by one party alleging intolerable behaviour, adultery or the fact that the parties have been separated for six years. In all cases, the parties must file a statement of full agreement reached about matrimonial property and assets, finances, custody of and access to children, and much more. The parties will have to appear before a Judge, who may then grant an interim separation order. There then follows a 'probationary period' of up to nine months, and the parties then have to go back to court to see if the Judge will grant a permanent dissolution.

Having read that you probably wish that you could do it all in England instead, but you probably also think that, because you are not currently a UK resident, you cannot use the English courts if the worst comes to the worst.

The good news is that in most circumstances you can, on the basis that you are 'domiciled' in England and Wales, (this does not apply to the rest of the UK). Domicile is a somewhat obscure legal concept but means, basically, that England and Wales is legally your ‘home country' and, so long as you have not formally and fully integrated into your new country of residence having cut all ties with England never to return that gives the English courts the jurisdiction to grant you a divorce for instance. Even if you have lived in a different country for many years it does not in most cases mean that in law you are no longer considered to be domiciled in England.

Not only that, but if you opt for an English divorce
  • Neither party has to appear in court at any stage
  • The whole case only takes around 16 weeks or so
  • The court does not need to deal with matrimonial property or finances in order to grant a divorce
  • The court does not need to consider custody issues, (in fact the concept of 'custody' has been abolished in the UK) in order to finalise the divorce
  • In short, an English divorce these days is quick and inexpensive.
However, there are very few law firms in the UK able to deal this type of case, as specialist knowledge is required in such things as the EU Council Regulations on Divorce, dealing with 'Euro' aspects of cross-border divorce procedure, recognition of court orders between member states, and other things that you do not need to worry about once you have found a divorce lawyer who specialises in this type of work.

Some of the firms that do this highly specialised type of work will give you a fixed-fee quote for the case, so you know exactly what it is going to cost, and won't get any nasty surprises at the end of the case.

A word of warning though, it may be to your advantage to divorce in England but better perhaps for your spouse if matters were dealt with under French law. The general position is that, where you have the choice to divorce in France or in England, which many expat couples living in France will have, the Courts of both member states work on a ‘first come, first served basis.’ If your spouse issues proceedings first you lose the choice; you need clear expert advice therefore and time is of the essence.

Finally, a word about coming to agreement about matrimonial assets: you may be wondering, given the points above, how the matrimonial assets would be dealt with by an English court? Firstly, the divorce courts do not deal with any of the matrimonial assets during the divorce case itself, and will not do so until after Decree Nisi has been pronounced and even then only when the parties cannot reach agreement. Any financial or property disputes are then dealt with as an entirely separate case (an ancillary case).

Most solicitors will strongly advise you to agree, agree, agree when it comes to agreeing a financial settlement, even if it means a compromise. Once agreement has been reached, the court will issue what is known as a Final Order by Consent without the need for any court hearings.

This article was written by Woolley & Co, Solicitors, family law specialists acting for expats throughout France and indeed the rest of the world. The Woolley & Co lawyers offer a free initial telephone appointment to discuss your particular circumstances. You can book a telephone or skype appointment online at www.family-lawfirm.co.uk or contact Woolley & Co by calling +441789 330310.

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Divorce Options for Expats in France
British Expat in France? These days more and more English people are moving to France, for either part of each year, or permanently; or are retiring to a home in the sun. ...

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