Are you a concubine in French law? (It doesn’t mean what you think it does)

One word that crops up on official documents in France never fails to raise a smile or laugh from an English speaker. Here's a look at what "concubine" really means in French and why the authorities want to know if you are one.

Are you a concubine in French law? (It doesn't mean what you think it does)
Photo: AllaSerebrina/Depositphotos
There's no doubt that seeing the word “concubine” on official French forms with a tick box next to it can come as something of a shock. 
And you'll see it on pretty much every official document you are asked to sign, leaving you wondering whether you are in fact a French concubine or not.  
But it doesn't really mean what you think it does. 

What is concubinage?
Rather than alluding to whether you're someone's mistress or toyboy, concubinage is actually just the term used for a couple who are living together but who are not married and have not had a civil partnership (PACS in France). 
The word concubinage also exists in English and means “an interpersonal and sexual relationship in which the couple are not or cannot be married” and the far more common English word concubine refers to a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife.
In 1999 France defined concubinage in law as a couple in a de facto union, characterised by a shared life which is stable and set to continue.
Concubinage does not entail any obligation between the two people involved: there is no obligation of fidelity and no obligation of assistance in any situation. 
For example, in terms of finances, a person living in concubinage has no obligation to help pay off the debts of their partner.
Concubinage is actually governed by an extremely limited legal regime which gives a great deal of freedom to both members of the couple.
However it is different from a union libre, a concept which is not recognised by French law and which does not benefit from even the very limited legal framework of concubinage
How is concubinage different from union libre?
The terms used to mean pretty much the same thing before the law defining concubinage was brought in in 1999.
While concubinage is still only loosely defined by law, union libre is not recognised by law at all.
You may be required to prove you are living in a concubinage to the authorities however you will never be asked to prove that you are living in a union libre
So, what does living in a concubinage actually mean in terms of tax?
With the exception of the wealth tax, a couple living together will pay separate tax returns. 
Where it does make a difference is personal housing allowance (APL). The calculation of the APL takes into account the couple's income and a cohabiting couple must declare all of their income in their application.
How do I prove I'm living in a concubinage?
If you want to prove you are cohabiting with a long-term partner, you can get hold of a certificat de concubinage or a declaration sur l'honneur at your local mairie (sometimes for free). 
This can be asked for by organisations to prove your status, particularly if you're applying for social benefits as it is used as evidence that you live together. 
It can also be used as proof of identity or on an invoice to both names however a mairie may refuse to issue one. 
What happens if we separate?
The law regarding concubinage does not dictate what happens when a couple living together split up. 
The couple is free to organise themselves independently. 
What is a convention de concubinage?
In contrast to the concubinage certificate, the convention is a contract which organises a couple's life together. 
It essentially allows the inventory of the property, including furniture, belonging to each partner in case the relationship breaks down and stipulates how much each partner will contribute to daily living expenses. It is up to the couple whether they create one of these or not but if you do want to you can contact a notaire. 

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France taken to European Court over divorce ruling that woman had ‘marital duty’ to have sex with husband

A case has been brought against France at the European Court of Human Rights by a woman who lost a divorce case after judges ruled against her because she refused to have sex with her husband.

France taken to European Court over divorce ruling that woman had 'marital duty' to have sex with husband
Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

The woman, who has not been named, has brought the case with the backing of two French feminist groups, arguing that the French court ruling contravened human rights legislation by “interference in private life” and “violation of physical integrity”.

It comes after a ruling in the Appeals Court in Versailles which pronounced a fault divorce in 2019 because of her refusal to have sex with her husband.

READ ALSO The divorce laws in France that foreigners need to be aware of

The court ruled that the facts of the case “established by the admission of the wife, constitute a serious and renewed violation of the duties and obligations of marriage making intolerable the maintenance of a shared life”.

Feminist groups Fondation des femmes (Women’s Foundation) and Collectif féministe contre le viol (Feminist Collective against Rape) have backed her appeal, deploring the fact that French justice “continues to impose the marital duty” and “thus denying the right of women to consent or not to sexual relations”.

“Marriage is not and should not be a sexual servitude,” the joint statement says, pointing out that in 47 percent of the 94,000 recorded rapes and attempted rapes per year, the aggressor is the spouse or ex-spouse of the victim.