From the Office of American Services in Paris
Divorce is pronounced by mutual consent, upon a joint request (or upon the request of either party when accepted by the other one), by fault, or by termination of common life.
In any case, the assistance of a lawyer is indispensable. In a joint request, both parties may request the assistance of the same lawyer. If your income is not sufficient to pay for the services of a lawyer, you may request, and be granted, judicial aid. Information on how to obtain legal aid is provided by the city hall.
When Your Spouse Consents to Divorce
To sue for divorce by mutual agreement, there are two possibilities:
A) Divorce upon mutual consent:
The two of you file a joint request. You do not have to give the judge the reason why you want to divorce, because you are in agreement to settle the conditions of your divorce. You submit your written request for the judge's approval, one stating the mutual conditions for the duration of the divorce proceedings, and another request stating permanent conditions to be reached after the divorce is pronounced (child custody, visiting rights, alimony, allowance, lodging and partition of real property). If you confirm your desire to divorce in the presence of the judge, you will need to confirm your wish to divorce after the expiration of a probationary period of three to nine months. N.B.: This proceeding can be done only if you have been married for more than six months.
B) Divorce requested by one party and accepted by the other:
Only one party files for divorce. The other party accepts it in principle. The divorcing spouse submits to the judge, through a lawyer, a request , accompanied by a statement of the facts which led him/her to decide to divorce. A copy of such request is given to the other party. If the other party recognizes the facts, the judge enters them into the record and sends the case to court for a final divorce decree.
When You and Your Spouse are NOT in Agreement to Divorce
A) Divorce requested for fault:
There are facts to be charged to one of spouses concerning violations of the duties and obligations of marital life, which render the marriage untenable: adultery or violence, for example. These facts are submitted for the judge's comment
B) Request to divorce because of breach of communal life:
1. When you have lived apart for at least six years.
2. When the mental faculties of your spouse have, for at least the past six years, become so altered that life together is no longer possible.
N.B.: The spouse who is requesting the divorce assumes responsibility for all fees involved, and must continue to meet his/her obligations to the children and the other spouse. The court will reject the request if either one of the spouses can prove that the divorce may result in severe moral or material consequences toward the other spouse or the children. In either case, the divorcing spouse must start the divorce proceedings with the judge, through an attorney. Such a request must specify how the spouse requesting the divorce will assure his/her obligations to the other spouse and children.
Consequences of Divorce for Ex-spouses
Ex-spouses may remarry once the final divorce is pronounced. A woman must, in principle, wait 300 days after the dissolution of the marriage or after the official decree authorizing spouses to reside separately (e.g ordonnance de non-conciliation) before remarrying. This waiting period can be waived in certain cases (such as by medical certificate stating non-pregnancy at the time of divorce).
Each spouse assumes usage of his/her name before marriage unless:
1. both spouses agree otherwise;
2. there is a judge's authorization;
3. if in a case of breach of common life, the party that did not request the divorce is in accord.
If the divorce causes the "innocent" spouse to suffer moral or material damages, he/she may sue for damages.
If the termination of marital life has a negative effect on either of the ex-spouses, he/she may, if desired, request payment of a compensatory allowance (except in the event of breach of common life). Such an allowance should be equal to whatever it would have been if life together still existed. If one-time payment is not possible, the compensatory allowance may be paid as either a temporary or lifetime annuity. The amount of the compensatory allowance is fixed by the judge, and can be revised only in very exceptional cases.
If the divorce is pronounced due to breach of common life, the ex-spouse may, if necessary, request alimony, in an amount to be determined in accordance with the financial situation of the ex-spouse.
Concerning the annulment of communal life and the settlement of accounts between husband and wife, the spouses must address themselves to the notary (notaire) appointed in the divorce decree. In the case of a joint request, a list of items belonging to the estate must be submitted to the judge with the final request.
Consequences of Divorce for Children
The "Juge aux affaires matrimoniales" awards custody of the children to either the mother or the father, or in exceptional cases, to a third party, if it is in the interest of the child. Judges tend more and more to award custody to the mother and the father jointly, provided the two parties are in agreement. The spouse who has not been awarded custody of the children has the right to receive visits from the children in his/her home. He/she also maintains responsibility for the children's care and education, and is required to pay child support and/or alimony. The amount of such obligations of support can be increased in accordance with cost of living, upon the request of the parties or directly upon the instructions of the judge. The amount of such alimony may be changed.