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FRENCH FACE OF THE WEEK

MARRIAGE

Star-crossed lovers, haunted by past lives

Elisabeth Lorentz and Eric Holder are in love. But this week, a set of facts from their past, and a letter from French President François Hollande himself, threatened to destroy their future. They are our French Faces of the Week.

Star-crossed lovers, haunted by past lives
Elisabeth Lorentz (L) and Eric Holder (R). What is about their past that this week led the President of the Republic to intervene and jeopardize their future? Frederick Florin/AFP

Who are they?

Elisabeth Lorentz, 48, and Eric Holder, 45.

Why have they been in the news this week?

The two plan to marry next month, and by their own account, “already invested €8,000” in the ceremony.

This week, however, their pre-nuptial excitement was rudely interrupted by the intervention of a certain François Hollande, President of France.

Their life stories, and their plight have fascinated and bemused French readers in equal measure.

Tell me more.

The couple, happy until very recently, both live in Dabo in Moselle in north-eastern France, and it’s there they had been hoping to tie the knot in a civil ceremony on July 28th.

However, a letter from Hollande, sent on June 3rd, has caused a certain stubborn set of facts from their past to play havoc with their future.

For 17 years, between 1989 and 2006, Elisabeth was in a romantic relationship with Eric’s father, and for three years, she was her fiancés stepmother.

How did that come about?

In 1989, at the age of 24, Elisabeth met and got together with an older man, who happened to be Eric’s father from a previous marriage.

Elisabeth and her older beloved had a daughter together in 1997, and were officially married in 2003, making Eric her stepson.

Eric had a daughter himself along the way, and everything ticked along until in 2006, a brutal separation between Elisabeth and her husband left her, and her nine-year-old daughter devastated.

Eric, whose daughter was roughly the same age as his step-sister, was by all accounts a gentleman during this difficult period – offering comfort to his step-sister, as well as to his father’s now former wife.

Bonding over that romantic catastrophe, Eric and Elisabeth saw qualities in each other they hadn’t before.

One thing led to another, the two fell in love, Eric proposed to Elisabeth – bring on the cake and the dancing.

So what’s the problem?

Well, Elisabeth’s divorce from Eric’s father – the event that shook her but eventually gave birth to their passion for each other – doesn’t make a difference in French law.

Despite Eric being Elisabeth's former stepson, his father would have to die for them to be legally married, according to the letter the two received from the Elysée Palace this week.

Even though Eric’s father approves of the relationship, even though he is one of the honoured wedding guests, and even though, as Elisabeth told AFP, “everything is ready,” their union appears to be impossible.

The betrothed are not despondent, but they're certainly not overjoyed by these developments.

"I'm going through a nightmare at the moment," Elisabeth told AFP. "When Eric asked me to marry him, I was so happy. I was on a little cloud. And now, I'm being accused of incest.'

A somewhat bizarre twist is the fact, indignantly raised by Eric in conversation with Le Parisien, that “My mother got remarried to my father’s brother, and that didn’t cause a problem.”

So what happens next?

Elisabeth and Eric have vowed to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights if they have to.

And they might be in with a shout of winning. In 2005, the court in Strasbourg, just 50 km from the lovers, ordered the UK to allow the marriage of a stepfather and stepdaughter.

What do others say about them?

“Marriage is prohibited between all ascendants and descendants and those related through marriage.” – Article 161 of France’s Civil Code.

“No allowance can be made in a scenario where the person who created the relationship through marriage is not deceased.” – French President François Hollande in his letter to the couple.

What do they say for themselves?

“Everything is ready: the room, the caterer, the band. I already have my dress and all my accessories. We’re not cancelling anything,” Elisabeth told AFP earlier this week.

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MARRIAGE

The divorce law pitfalls in France that foreigners need to be aware of

France now has an out-of-court divorce option designed to make the process simpler and less expensive, but as Paris-based lawyer Caterina Guidiceandrea warns, it has some pitfalls for non-French people.

The divorce law pitfalls in France that foreigners need to be aware of
Happy ever after? Maybe not. Photo: AFP

In France it is now possible for couples to divorce without going through a long and sometimes expensive court process by signing a divorce agreement – but this may not be ideal for couples where one or both person is not French.

What is an out-of-court divorce and how does it work?

On January 1st 2017, the divorce par consentement mutuel (divorce by mutual consent) was created, allowing couples to acknowledge their consent to divorce in an extra-judicial contract without a court proceeding.

To divorce by mutual consent, it is essential that couples agree on all aspects of their divorce with the help of their respective lawyers. They especially need to settle the consequences of the divorce on their children (custody and residence), on their assets and all financial measures (alimony and compensatory allowance).

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The consent reached by the couple is then set out in a divorce agreement, prepared by the parties’ lawyers. Following a 15 day cooling-off period, the divorce agreement is signed by the spouses and countersigned by each lawyer.

Once signed, the agreement is submitted to a French notaire for registration. Registration is what makes the divorce agreement enforceable in France.

How long does it take to get a get an extra-judicial divorce?

Signing a divorce agreement is the quickest way to divorce in France.

Whilst the duration clearly depends on how the negotiations between the couple progress, it is technically possible to sign and register a divorce agreement in France within approximately one month.

Can I sign the divorce agreement remotely?

No, it is not possible to sign the divorce agreement remotely. Both spouses and their respective lawyers need to be physically present on the day of signing.

The French National Bar Association clearly indicated, on February 8th 2019, that “the divorce agreement by mutual consent without a judge must be signed in the physical presence and simultaneously by the parties and the attorneys mentioned in the agreement, without substitution or possible delegation”.

This requirement has not changed since Covid-19.


I am not French, can I sign a divorce agreement?

Yes, you can sign a divorce agreement even if you are not French. However you must have a sufficient connection to France, based on your habitual residence or on your spouse’s French nationality.

International couples should however be very careful when signing a divorce agreement as not all countries recognise this type of divorce.

As the divorce agreement is entered into out of court – except when a minor child requests to be heard in court – public authorities from certain countries do not recognise and enforce this type of divorce. This is for instance the case in certain States in the USA.

In practice, this means that, a couple having signed and registered a French divorce agreement, would be considered as divorced in France, however still be married in their home country/countries if local authorities refuse to register and enforce the contract.

Enforcing a divorce agreement outside of France could also be problematic for expats who move countries on a regular basis.

It is essential to assess the possibility of signing a divorce agreement with your lawyer to ensure that it is enforceable and will be registered outside of France.

Should the French out-of-court divorce not be recognised by the authorities in your country of origin or should it not be appropriate, it will be necessary to take the matter to court.

Caterina Giudiceandrea is a registered lawyer in Paris, France www.legal-gc.com
 

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