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12th September 2016

Married and Have Property in the France? New Marriage Laws Are Coming into Play

Article by Loic Raboteau, International Legal Advisor and French Property Law Expert, Francophile Law

IT IS IMPORTANT TO GET GOOD LEGAL ADVICE WHEN BUYING A SKI PROPERTY IN FRANCE

Unlike the UK, French marriages are performed under ‘matrimonial regimes’ which defines ownership of the property between the couple during marriage, or after divorce or death. Regardless of where you were married, if you live in France, your assets and liabilities will be subject to one of these regimes.

Without a marriage contract, the default regime is the “Régime de la Communauté Réduite aux Acquits” under which the assets owned by the spouses before the marriage remain their respective assets, and assets gained during marriage belong to the couple. Even though this arrangement doesn’t exist in the UK, British owners of property in France would be considered to be married under the regime of separation of assets.

Other possible regimes include the “Séparation de biens” in which all property owned at the time of the marriage and bought during it remains owned by the person who paid for it or was given or bequeathed it and only the individual’s possessions are at risk if he or she is in debt. The “Régime de la Communauté Universelle des Biens” in which assets belonging to either spouse before marriage may be brought into common ownership when this contract is entered into, or excluded according to the couples’ choice. All matrimonial property is potentially at risk for joint or individual debt arising after marriage. This regime is common for British couples in order to avoid forced heirship if there are children involved from a previous marriage.

On 14 June 2016, two new European Regulations were adopted by 18 EU countries to come into force on 29 January 2019. Regulation #2016/1103 regulates the choice of applicable law to matrimonial regimes, and #2016/1104 regulates the choice of law applicable to the assets regime of civil partnerships. Prior to these Regulations, 1978 Hague Convention on matrimonial property regimes allowed married couples to change the law applicable to their matrimonial regime. They could choose the law of a country of which one of them was a national or in which they lived – as well as the country in which the property was situated.

Though the UK did not take part in the creation of the new regulations, they still apply to UK nationals as EU laws state that their application is universal and their provisions apply even if the designated law is not the law of a EU Member State or from a State who opted out.

From 29 January 2019, married couples or civil partners will be able to choose either the law of their habitual residence or the law of the nationality of one of the spouses or civil partners to regulate their matrimonial regime. The choice made will apply to all their assets, wherever those assets are located.

The 1978 Hague Convention on Matrimonial Property has now been excluded under these laws, and British owners will no longer be able to choose a French matrimonial regime to apply to their French assets only.

It means that British nationals residing in the UK and who will marry in the UK or will enter into a civil partnership in the UK after 29 January 2019 will no longer be able to choose for example the French matrimonial “Régime de la Communauté Universelle des Biens” to apply to their French properties. English law will apply to the distribution of their French assets in the event of divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

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