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Marrying a French citizen in France

par Maître Noémie Houchet-Tran


Mutual duties of marriage ; matrimonial property and inheritance

France is more and more attractive for foreigners: food, wine, fashion… and love !! What about the consequences of marrying a national in France ?
Before getting engaged, there are a few things you need to know about French Family law, from the requirements related to the celebration, up to inheritance.

Formalities
To be valid, all marriages must be performed by a French legal authority, in practice the mayor. Religious ceremonies are possible but they have to take place after the civil one.
You cannot marry anywhere you want. At least one of the future spouses must have resided in the town for 40 days continuously prior to the marriage.

Matrimonial property
Three standard prenuptial agreements can be proposed by the notaire, who is a kind of public officer. The future spouses can opt for :

1. Universal community (communauté universelle)
All present and future incomes, assets and debts are common property.

2. Separation of assets (séparations de biens)
No common property. Any asset registered in joint names is considered to be owned equally.

3. Participation to assets (Participation aux acquêts)
This obsolete hybrid regime works as a separation of assets regime during the time of marriage. At the time of dissolution, the less fortuned spouse gets half of the difference between the two spouses’ respective assets.

If no prenupt was signed, we talk about legal community (commaunauté légale réduite aux acquêts), system under which, every asset which was acquired during the time of marriage is reputed to be owned by both spouses, except assets acquired by inheritance or donation which always remain the property of the beneficiary spouse.
As to the assets acquired before marriage, they will remain individual property.

Be careful! Every usual debt contracted during the time of marriage is also reputed to be common and can be recovered indifferently on one of the spouses’ account. Think twice before getting married to an extravagant person!

Duties of marriage
At the city hall, the mayor will read that pursuant to Article 212 of the French civil code, “Spouses owe each other respect, fidelity, support and assistance”.

In France, spousal support issues are never affected by prenuptial agreements.
During the time of marriage and until a definitive divorce decree, the wealthier spouse has to financially support the other spouse.

If your husband earns much more money than you do, he has to give you a monthly amount of money. Of course, the contrary is true. Depending on cases, the amount of spousal support can be up to half the salary of the debtor!

If divorce occurs, this will result in what we call a prestation compensatoire which is a capital sum awarded by the judge to one spouse when there are significant differences between the two spouses’ incomes and/ or estates.

As to the duty of fidelity, recent case law let us think that it is becoming obsolete. For instance, the Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) ruled that a donation to a lover is valid as there is no illegal motive.

Inheritance
Eventually, the most important protection you get from getting married resides in the many protective rights granted to the surviving spouse.

French inheritance law applies to the whole estate of the deceased if he dies in France and if all immovable property, i.e. apartments, houses or rural fields, are located in France.

- With at least one child with the deceased: you can inherit the right to use the property or enjoy the income from it or the ownership of one quarter, at your choice.
- If the deceased spouse has children other than those from the union, you can only accept ownership of one quarter of the deceased spouse's property.
- Unless specified otherwise in a notarized will, you are entitled to live in the accommodation that was the marital home and use the furniture it contains that are part of the estate until your own death. During the first year from the date of the death, this right can be exercised for free.
- The law favors the surviving spouse when allocating the couple's main residence and the movables furnishing it during the division of an estate.
- If you encounter financial difficulties, you may, within one year of the death, claim an allowance from the other heirs.
 

As a conclusion, French marriage may suffer from a lack of flexibility regarding prenups, for instance, but the default protective rights can guarantee real support when, sadly, a tragic event occurs.

 

 

  Maître Noémie HOUCHET-TRAN est avocate au Barreau de Paris, son cabinet est entièrement dédié au droit national et international de la famille

 



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