From Paris with love – the growing influence of continental matrimonial property regimes

13 February 2013

Last week saw the launch of Part 1 of the Family Team’s Peer to Peer Expert Series, with events focused on the international family.  The inaugural lecture discussed the growing influence of continental matrimonial property regimes.  William Healing, introduced the topic reviewing the state of English law and was followed by Isabelle Rein-Lescastereyes from BWG Associés in Paris who explained the purpose of French matrimonial property regimes.

In France, upon getting married, couples have to choose a matrimonial property regime or agree their own customised version.  However, Isabelle was keen to stress that this is not a form of prenup; matrimonial property regimes are not about who gets what on divorce.  Instead, the couple are agreeing how they will own property during the marriage and, where necessary, how to protect certain assets from third party creditors.  The couple’s chosen matrimonial property regime is 100% binding in France and will consequently dictate how assets are divided upon the death of one party or divorce, when the matrimonial property regime is ‘liquidated’. 

Isabelle was followed by Tim Amos QC from QEB who explored how English law has been influenced by matrimonial property regimes and whether, in this post-Radmacher era, we can expect a level of ‘continental drift’ in the future.

Whether you consider prenups to be unromantic (as we are told is the common French opinion) or simply a sensible means of protecting family assets, there is a growing recognition in English law that marriage (and civil partnerships) can be entered into as a negotiated partnership of autonomous equals.  The couple therefore should be entitled to decide the consequences in the event of divorce or dissolution.  Irrespective of the heady rush of Valentine’s Day propaganda, I believe matrimonial property regimes provide French couples with a more palatable means of making these decisions by placing the focus on property ownership during the marriage, which then decides how the regime is liquidated on divorce.  Our own Anglo-Saxon prenups are also useful planning documents but cater only for divorce.

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