International Marriage: Mind the legal effects!

Updated on Friday 13 June 2014

Marrying a foreign national, French people marrying abroad or simply living abroad once married results in major legal effects on marriage law. The expression "international marriage" applies to all these situations.


Globalisation has resulted in greater numbers of couples of mixed nationality as well as increased mobility.
Whether spouses are of different nationalities, foreigners getting married in France or French people marrying abroad or even more complex situations, the people concerned are often ill-informed about the law governing the marriage. The rules vary from one country to another.
People wanting to marry should therefore enquire about the formalities they need to complete in order to get married, but also about the matrimonial property which will be applicable in case of no matrimonial contract or about the consequences of separation due to divorce or death.
This information is important because the applicable matrimonial property is not necessarily that of the country of which the spouses are natives or that of the country where the marriage takes place, but that of the spouses’ first usual residence, i.e. the place where they lived and worked immediately after getting married.

If you have not made any plans, certain legal rules (of your country or another) will automatically apply. Spouses are strongly advised to draw up a marriage contract in which they specify the matrimonial regime they wish to apply.

They also have much greater freedom than French couples: the Hague convention dated 14 March 1978 enables international couples to choose a matrimonial regime under:

  • the national law of one of the spouses,
  • the law of the country where one of the spouses was living before the marriage,
  • the law of the country where one of the spouses will be living after the marriage takes place or, for real estate,
  • the law of the country in which the property is located.

In other words, a professional should be consulted, for them to make the right choice.

Another advantage of this approach is that schemes chosen as a result of an informed choice will apply whatever happens to the spouses subsequently, thereby avoiding the application of another rule laid down by the Hague convention, namely that after 10 years living in a given State, the matrimonial regime of that State automatically applies.

Contact your notaire if you are, or are likely to be, in a situation of international marriage. A marriage contract may be the solution to protect you against uncertainty and unpleasant surprises.