The French law “Justice in the 21st century” adopted in October 2016, contains two symbolic measures concerning the family which will become effective in 2017.

Divorce by mutual consent without a judge: a legal « revolution »

As of January 1, 2017, this very controversial procedure has become effective. The Justice Minister believes the new law will allow divorces by mutual consent within a month, compared to the current 3 months (whereas high-conflict divorces take up to 2 years). According to INSEE, France’s National Institute of Statistics, there were 123,500 divorces in 2014 (1.1% less than in 2013), that is an average of 338 per day. More than 1 out of 2 divorces (54%) were pronounced by mutual consent.

According to the new procedure without a judge, divorce settlements would be prepared by each of the lawyers representing each spouse (previously only one lawyer was required for both) and would then be transferred to a notary who registers the act, enforceable after a 15-day withdrawal period. The absence of a judge is not trivial: indeed his role was to control the equity and the substance of the agreement between the spouses as well as their free consent. The judge acted as a guardian in the child’s best interest.

During the parliamentary shuttle, the Senate attempted to restrict this procedure to couples without children. The text adopted provides however that in the case of under-age children, the parents must inform the minors that they can ask to be heard by a judge, in which case the procedure with a judge will apply.

Henceforth, divorce is regarded as a contract, “as an object of invalidity and can be voided” by legal recourse, underlined the lawyer, Maître Elodie Mulon who describes it as a revolution and declares “it’s not entirely sure whether the legislator understands the full implications of this measure”.

This « revolution » in family law raises concerns for the protection of children and spouses after the separation.

« When there is domestic abuse, women who are victims want the separation to be pronounced as quickly as possible and they are often ready to relinquish their rights” according to feminist associations. “The judge acts as a safety belt, a protector, and he is impartial “adds the French Union for Family Associations. The associations also fear that the costs of divorce will increase, with lawyers escalating their fees.

‘PACS’ Civil solidarity pacts to be signed in town halls; a powerful symbol passed unnoticed

The second measure concerns registering in town halls for the ‘PACS’ (civil solidarity pact between partners who cannot legally marry). This will become effective in November 2017. It is remarkable that this emblematic change was passed practically without any opposition. Whereas in 1999 when the ‘PACS’ law was voted, the signing of this contract at the Court House constituted a prominent key issue so as not to resemble a marriage. At the time it was promised that mayors would never register ‘PACS’ in town halls…