The trends towards greater mobility is leading to a rise in the number of international couples. What national law will govern their matrimonial regime?

An international couple is made up of: two French people living abroad, two foreigners living in France or two spouses of different nationalities.

By changing country, couples who married after 1 September 1992 without a prenuptial agreement or declaration (also formalised with a notary) designating the nationality of the law which they chose to apply to their matrimonial regime risk being subject to another matrimonial regime which will organise their inheritance relationships differently.

Automatic change

The legal regime of the country where the spouses have their residence is automatically applied in the following situations:

– The spouses have lived in this state for more than 10 years;

– The spouses have the original nationality of the host country or acquire it;

– The spouses were by default subject to the law of the state where they wed in the absence of a joint habitual residence at the time.

Choosing and fixing one’s matrimonial regime

In their prenuptial agreement, the spouses may, designate the law that will always be applicable to their matrimonial regime. They can choose between the law of the country of which one of them has the nationality or that of the state of their habitual residence. The selected law will apply regardless of the changes of residence and only the interested parties can go back on their choice.

> In the absence of a prenuptial agreement, the spouses may designate the law applicable to their matrimonial regime by means of a declaration drawn up at the notary’s office, in accordance with Article 6 of the Hague Convention of 14 March 1978.

Proposed legislation

Spouses who marry after 29 January 2019 or who wish then to change the law applicable to their regime, may choose the law of the state of which one of the spouses has the nationality or their habitual residence when concluding their prenuptial agreement.In the absence of an agreement, it is the law of the country of the first joint habitual residence after the wedding which will apply.

Worth knowing

Spouses who married without an agreement before 1 September 1992 are subject to the law of the country of their first permanent home, where they have lived together for at least two years after their wedding with the intention of settling there.


Reference text

Article 171-1 of the French Civil Code