How to recover a small debt in France ?
Whether businessowner or private individual, it may occur to you that a French debtor refuses to pay an invoice or an amount due under a contract.
Recovering a small civil or commercial debt in France can be a fairly straightforward process.
Creditors can apply for a court payment order by themselves or via their lawyer before the civil court (Tribunal judiciaire) or commercial court (Tribunal de commerce).
Creditors need to request the court nearest to their debtor’s domicile to issue a payment order – this is called an injonction de payer.
The payment request needs to contain – in addition to all details regarding the creditor and debtor – a detailed description of the claim and the amount of the debt.
It is essential to provide all underlying documents proving that the amount is due: signed contract, invoice(s), order(s), proof of delivery / shipment / rendered service, relevant email and letter exchanges.
Prior to requesting a payment order a formal payment request (mise en demeure) should be sent to the debtor, ideally by a lawyer. This document should also be submitted with the request.
Based on the provided documents, the court accepts or refuses to issue a payment order. In any event, the payment order is handed down solely on the proof provided by the person or company that is owned the money.
Timing and cost
It takes anywhere between one to a couple of weeks to obtain a payment order – the timing obviously depends on the court’s practice (with commercial courts generally being faster than civil courts).
Requesting a payment order is free before the civil court and costs € 33,47 before the commercial court.
What to do once you receive the court’s decision
If the court grants the payment order it is essential to serve it to the debtor via a bailiff. Once the debtor is served the order, he/she has 1 month to object and explain to the court
why the amount is not due.
If the court refuses to issue a payment order, a new request with additional proof can be submitted, or, if the case is more complex, an actual court procedure must be initiated.
For more information in French: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1746
Caterina Giudiceandrea is a French registered lawyer with experience in international debt recovery in France.