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