French matrimonial regimes: the wide ranging impact for couples with Anglo French connections

5 December 2019


The concept of matrimonial regimes is becoming increasingly well known in England, having been a stalwart of the French marriage process for centuries. International clients and those with Anglo French connections are asking the right questions about French marriage contracts versus English prenuptial or postnuptial agreements more frequently, being more aware of the significant differences between the two and also the need for cross-border legal advice to ensure their interests are protected should they later chose to divorce.


However, the prenuptial/postnuptial comparison and subsequent consequences on divorce is only one part of the picture. What is perhaps less well known or considered is the impact that a matrimonial regime can have in the event of the death of a spouse. Choosing the right matrimonial regime is incredibly important from an inheritance and tax planning perspective.

In this series of blogs, Joseph (Senior Associate in Private Client) discusses the various aspects that you should consider from a family and inheritance or succession perspective when deciding which matrimonial regime to elect (or whether to create another type of agreement), including what will happen by default if you do not select any. He will highlight important considerations such as:

  • the purchase of property (in France or England);
  • the treatment of certain assets and liabilities; and
  • the rules surrounding inheritance and forced heirship.

Three often encountered scenarios which we will keep in mind during the blog series are:

  1. The British couple with a French holiday home;
  2. The French couple living in London; and;
  3. The British entrepreneur with French business interests.

As a starting point, we have set out below the most common matrimonial regimes and the general principles behind them in terms of assets and liabilities.


Pre-acquired assets?

Assets acquired during marriage?

Liabilities pre-marriage?

Liabilities post-marriage?

Communauté réduite aux acquets (default)

Regarded as separate

Regarded as joint (except if purchased with funds from pre-acquired assets or parental gifts, for example)

Regarded as separate

Regarded as joint

Communauté universelle

Regarded as joint

Regarded as joint

Regarded as joint

Regarded as joint

Séparation de biens

Regarded as separate

Regarded as separate (except if bought together, and then owned in proportion to the amount put in by each spouse)

Regarded as separate



Regarded as separate

Each of these regimes will have resulting consequences in terms of divorce, succession and tax, and the above is only an introductory guide. There is a multitude of ways in which spouses can agree to deal with their assets, and so the flexibility remains if spouses wish to create a more personal arrangement. We will delve further into these topics in our upcoming blogs over the coming months, which will also feature input from our French counterparts.

The overarching advice, however, is simple – be sure to seek legal and accountancy advice (in all relevant countries), particularly if your financial situation is in any way complex. We hope to provide you with a handy guide so that you know the right questions to ask, and of whom. In the next blog, we will be taking a closer look at inheritance.

Further information

If you have any questions about French matrimonial regimes and their impact on divorce and in respect of inheritance and succession planning, please contact a member of our Anglo French services team.  You may also be interested in reading more about Anglo French specialist law services and FAQs in respect of family law.

We provide legal support to French speaking clients, both individuals, their families and businesses, living in the UK and overseas.  We also advise British expats living in France and elsewhere. We advise in respect of the laws of England and Wales but we can liaise with and refer clients to trusted advisors overseas as and when relevant.


About the authors

Joseph Austin is a Senior Associate in the Private Client Team. He specialises in the administration of deceased persons’ estates (probate), with a particular focus on estates that are complex and / or which have an international element. He also advises upon the preparation of wills and lifetime gifts and inheritance planning to include the preparation and administration of trusts. Joseph regularly advises French clients and UK clients with French links on cross-border succession and inheritance tax issues.


Choose a specialist area:

Anglo French Specialist Family Law Service

We provide specialist bilingual family expertise to separating couples and Anglo-French families with disputes relating to finance, children or both.

Anglo French Prenuptial Agreements

It is important to take advice on the value of a French marriage contract here in England, as the law in England and Wales works very differently to French family law and also on how an English prenuptial agreement might apply abroad. These questions affect international couples.

Anglo French Divorce and Separation

There are important differences in the financial outcomes between English and French law (or the laws of other Francophone countries) in situations of separation or divorce. Clients often have a choice of where to bring proceedings, so seeking early advice is often of vital importance to the outcome.

Anglo French Disputes Involving Children

In cases where there are English elements to the situation, we advise clients on a successful strategy for negotiation or before the English court. In situations where the children are French resident, we can refer you to a leading French family lawyer so that any French proceedings can be handled effectively for you.

Anglo French FAQ

We have set out frequently asked questions relating to the significant differences in the outcomes between family proceedings in England and France in respect of finance and children.

Anglo French Services

As part of our international services we offer support to Anglo French nationals and families living in the UK and British expats living in France.

Private Client

We are an internationally recognised private client team working with entrepreneurs, business owners, investors and City professionals.

Choosing the Right Divorce Jurisdiction

Separating couples who between them have residences, domiciles and/or nationalities involving more than one country may have a choice as to where they divorce or where they dispute financial arrangements for themselves or children. Lawyers call this a choice of jurisdiction or forum.

International Family Law

Whether you or your partner live abroad or hold assets abroad. We can assist with immigration questions, property, succession and tax planning.

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Close Load more

Ready to find out where you stand?

Our online systems allow you to get started anywhere, any time and you can save your progress.

Click here to get started

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility