Have you come to France with your children following a divorce judgment handed down outside the European Union or has a divorce judgment been issued in a country other than that of your ex-spouse who resides in France? Your ex-spouse refuses to make alimony payments set out under the foreign divorce judgment?
In such cases, it is necessary to introduce a procedure known as “exequatur” before the French Court of Justice (Tribunal Judiciaire) through a French lawyer so that your foreign divorce judgment can be enforced in France.
What is the exequatur procedure of a foreign divorce judgment ?
If one of the former spouses does not comply with the foreign divorce judgment, it is necessary to apply for exequatur in France.
The purpose of the French exequatur procedure is to make a divorce decision handed down by a foreign judge enforceable in France.
A foreign court decision on divorce is not automatically enforceable in France as it is in the country in which it was handed down
In order to make a foreign court divorce judgment enforceable in France, it must therefore go through an international law procedure, called exequatur for which legal representation by a lawyer is mandatory.
Once exequatur of the foreign divorce judgment has been obtained in France, it will be possible to enforce alimony claims through a bailiff in France.
What the French judge verifies during the exequatur procedure of a foreign divorce judgment
France has entered into a number of international agreements on the conditions for the recognition and enforcement of foreign divorce decisions in France.
In particular, France has entered into bilateral treaties with Brazil, Argentina, China, Vietnam, UAE and many countries in Africa. Treaties have not been entered into with the US, Canada and Mexico.
These international treaties lay down the conditions for a divorce decision to be granted exequatur in France and will form the legal basis for the application before the French Court of Justice.
While these bilateral treaties lay down similar conditions to exequatur as set out under Article 509 of the French Code of Civil Procedure and French case law (see below), they often provide for specific procedural rules for initiating the exequatur court proceeding.
In the absence of an international agreement on the conditions of mutual recognition of court decisions, the exequatur procedure is governed by article 509 of the French Code of civil procedure.
Article 509 of the Code of civil procedure provides that “judgments handed down by foreign courts and documents received by foreign officers are enforceable in France as set out by applicable law”.
The French judge must verify that three requirements have been met in the proceedings and in the foreign divorce judgment before granting exequatur:
The foreign divorce judgment must have been handed down by a court having jurisdiction: a foreign court is considered having jurisdiction if there is a clear link between the dispute and the country that issued the decision. This criteria does not generally pose a problem in proceedings for the exequatur of foreign divorce judgments;
The foreign divorce decision must comply with international public policy: the foreign decision must comply with international substantive and procedural public policy rules. This requirement is the one that most often causes some issues in French proceedings: for example, a foreign judgment of divorce by repudiation is contrary to French public policy and will therefore not be enforceable in France; and
The foreign divorce judgment must have been handed down in the absence of fraud: the decision must have been issued without any unfair manoeuvres for the sole purpose of evading the French rules of private international law.
In the summons before the Court of Justice the French lawyer is required to demonstrate that these three requirements have been met.
Caterina Giudiceandrea is a native English speaking attorney in France and has extensive experience in exequatur proceedings of foreig judgments firstname.lastname@example.org