France tops EU table for births outside marriage

Six out of ten babies in France are born to parents outside of wedlock - the highest rate in the European Union – a Eurostat study has found.

France tops EU table for births outside marriage
Photos: AFP

If you had any doubt that the French no longer conform to traditional family structures and values, here’s proof that things really have changed. 

According to Eurostat, France has the highest birth rate among non-married couples in the bloc, and the second highest in the European Economic Area after Iceland (67 percent).

L’Héxagone was followed by Bulgaria and Slovenia in joint second (both 58.6 percent), Estonia (56.1 percent), Sweden (54.9 percent), Denmark (54.0 percent), Portugal (52.8 percent) and the Netherlands (50.4 percent).


On the opposite side of the spectrum are Mediterranean countries with well-established religious beliefs that strongly influence societal views on childbearing, such as Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Italy as well as Poland and Lithuania.

In all of these EU Member States more than 70 percent of births occurred within marriage; in Greece it is 93 percent.

So why is France possibly top of the table?

Marriages have overall dropped in metropolitan France in the last decade, going from 274,000 in 2007 to 228,000 in 2017, according to figures from the country’s national stats body INSEE.

It’s also worth considering that France’s civil solidarity pacts (PACs) are not included in Eurostat’s research, something the EU body is quick to point out “might not give the full picture”.

“Legal alternatives to marriage, like registered partnership, have become more widespread and national legislation has changed to confer more rights on unmarried couples,” Eurostat’s study clarifies.

That is indeed true of France where in 2016 there were 192,000 civil solidarity pacts (PACs), 3,000 more than in 2015. 

In fact the increase in the number of PACs has been continuous since 2002 with the exception of 2011 due to a change in tax regulations (since 2011 couples who marry or conclude a PACs are no longer able to sign three different tax returns in the year of their union).

In 2016, there were four PACs for every five marriages (only heterosexual unions). For same-sex couples, there are as many PACs as there are marriages.

There were also 128,000 divorces in France in 2016, a rise of 4,400 compared to 2015, but the country's breakup rate hasn't experienced enough radical changes over the past decade for it to have influenced France's top position in the “birth rate outside marriage” table.

It's also worth nothing that despite the fact that France's overall birth rate has dropped for the last three straight years, the country remains the most fertile in the EU ahead of Ireland.

A total of 767,000 babies were born in France in 2017 — 17,000 fewer than in 2016, a drop of 2.1 percent.

READ ALSO: Why are the French making fewer and fewer babies?



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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).


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