|You feel somehow disconnected
from the help you could obtain in the UK, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the
friendly local solicitor just down the road, the powers of the English
courts and their ability to dispense swift and fair justice, and you
really can't face the thought of going to a local lawyer, what with the
language problems, the strange laws and customs, and you have heard that
it takes years to get a divorce locally.
EU law you can obtain a divorce in France, once you have become an
'habitual resident', (which is open to interpretation by a Judge). A
divorce can be granted on either a joint submission by both parties that
the marriage has broken down and they both wish for a dissolution, or by
one party alleging intolerable behaviour, adultery or the fact that the
parties have been separated for six years. In all cases, the parties must
file a statement of full agreement reached about matrimonial property and
assets, finances, custody of and access to children, and much more. The
parties will have to appear before a Judge, who may than grant an interim
separation order. There then follows a 'probationary period' of up to nine
months, and the parties then have to go back to court to see if the Judge
will grant a permanent dissolution.
Having read that you probably wish that you do it all in all in England
instead, but you probably also think that, because you are not currently a
UK resident, you cannot use the English courts if the worst comes to the
The good news is that in most circumstances you can, on the basis that you
are 'domiciled' in the UK. Domicile is a somewhat obscure legal concept
but means, basically, that England is legally your 'home country' and that
gives the English courts the jurisdiction to grant you a divorce for
Not only that, but if you opt for an English divorce:
- Neither party has to appear in court at any stage
- The whole case only takes around 16 weeks or so
- The court does not need to deal with matrimonial
property or finances in order to grant a Decree
- The court does not need to consider custody issues,
(as 'custody' has been abolished in the UK) in order to finalise the
In short, an English divorce these days is quick and
inexpensive. However, there are very few firms in the UK able to deal this
type of case, as much specialist knowledge is required, including such
things as the EU Council Regulations on Divorce, and some other 'gems'
from Brussels, especially, 'Brussels II' and the very recent 'Brussels IIa'
all dealing with 'Euro' aspects of cross-border divorce procedure,
recognition of court orders between member states, and other things that
you do not need to worry about once you have found a specialist in this
type of work.
Some of the firms that do this highly specialised type of work will give
you a fixed-fee quote for the case, so you know exactly what it is going
to cost, and won't get any nasty surprises at the end of the case!
Finally, a word about matrimonial assets. You may be wondering, given the
'bullet' points above, about how the matrimonial assets would be dealt
with by an English court? Firstly, the divorce courts do not deal with any
of the matrimonial assets during the divorce case itself, and will not do
so until after Decree Nisi has been pronounced and even then only when the
parties cannot reach agreement. Any financial or property disputes are
then dealt with as an entirely separate case (an ancillary case).
Matrimonial assets cases should be avoided if at all possible, as they can
take several months to their conclusion, the parties have to attend at
least two court hearings, and are very expensive indeed. By the time the
average party has paid the court fees, solicitor's fees, barrister's fees,
property valuers fees, actuary's fees, forensic accountant's fees and more
(all plus vat) he or she will need to have a very understanding bank
manager. So, most solicitors will strongly advise you to agree, agree,
agree even if it means a compromise. Once agreement has been reached, the
court will issue what is known as a Final Order by Consent without the
need for any court hearings.
This article was written by John King, a specialist lawyer with Woolly &
Co who deals with divorce and family law matters for English ex-pats all
over the world. John will provide free advice to all ex-pats living in
France, via telephone or e-mail.