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“You can’t stop people from getting divorced, but you can change the way they do it.”
– A divorce lawyer in Paris
American divorce tends to support fueling the fire and leaving no stone unturned in the battle for assets and custody. It seems that France does not mimic our combative model of litigation. French divorce court involves far less drama compared to sensational American trials. Trial antics are lacking as French divorce procedure does not allow for sworn testimony or cross-examination. Are you raising an eyebrow in skepticism? First consider the cost effectiveness of faster, more pleasant trials, and then wonder why we don’t follow suit.
Here are some areas in which the French divorce differently:
An Attorney’s Role (or Lack Thereof)
While lawyers are always present for testimony in American divorces, French judges do the bulk of the work. In France, judges meet with both parties alone and in person to determine whether they might attempt reconciling their relationship.
In France, divorces are quicker and less expensive. Because much of the divorce process is administrative, and void of contested hearings, discovery, sworn testimony, and other dirt-gathering ventures, divorces are settled more rapidly. An American couple with a large amount of money, children, property, and contested issues won’t even see the inside of a courtroom before a French couple has taken advantage of their country’s streamlines procedures. Without the seemingly endless rhetoric of contested hearings, the cost of divorce in France is much more manageable.
The French Napoleonic Rule on where to file for divorce permits anyone to bring suit in France if he can claim a remote percentage of lineage as a Frenchman. Following this standard, Paul Buchard — grandson of a Frenchman and lifelong New York resident — can properly make an argument to sue for divorce in France. In Massachusetts, one of the spouses must be a resident of the state if the grounds for divorce occurred within Massachusetts. If the grounds for divorce occurred elsewhere, then one spouse must be a resident of the state for one year. Either way, you would not be summoned to a foreign court where you neither own property nor have even resided.
You won’t find any court reporters at a French trial in the lower courts. If a party wishes to appeal a divorce decision, the case is tried all over again, i.e., de novo. American courts keep transcripts of all proceedings, hearings, and depositions as records of lower court precedent and guidance for the appeals court.
Alimony and Child Support
The French pay spousal support over a period of time only in exceptional circumstances. The French equivalent to “alimony” is typically granted in the form of a lump sum. Where systems converge is how spousal maintenance is calculated. Both French and American courts determine spousal support according to several factors like the duration of the marriage, differences in earning potential, existing and foreseeable rights and needs, ages and health, etc.
American courts rarely deviate from child support guidelines, charts, and formulas. Reasons to deviate from the guidelines are intentionally and specifically designated, and must be supported by fitting evidence. While the French Ministry of Justice produced an analytic table of child support, the French see child support guidelines are flexible recommendations.
Which country has it better?