By Pauline LACHICHE, Notary
Signing a prenuptial agreement is often the key to adapting the spouses’ matrimonial property regime to their assets. However, the matrimonial property regime is not the only issue to be addressed in an international context, whether the future spouses are of foreign nationality with assets located in foreign countries or whether they intend to expatriate for professional reasons.
1. Choice of the applicable law
The European Union law allows the French notary responsible for drawing up a prenuptial agreement to establish choices of the applicable law as regards the law relating to the matrimonial property regime, divorce or maintenance obligations.
The European Union regulations of 24 June 2016 n°2016/1103, of 20 December 2010 n°1259/2010 and the Hague Protocol of 23 November 2007 allow the choice of the law of the nationality of the future spouses or of their habitual residence. These choices of law are universal in scope, so it is not necessary to designate the law of a State party to these regulations or international protocol.
The law applicable to the matrimonial property regime
With regard more specifically to the law applicable to the matrimonial property regime, under the terms of Article 22 of the European Union Regulation 2016/1103 of 24 June 2016, the spouses may choose the legal regime of the designated law or any contractual regime. Clients should be advised of the importance, in the event of expatriation, of freezing the law they wish to be applied, as in the absence of a choice in a marriage contract, the rules of private international law and foreign domestic legislation may determine a matrimonial property regime that does not correspond to the wishes of the future spouses.
It should also be noted that the Article 7 of the aforementioned Regulation allows future spouses to designate the jurisdiction to rule on questions concerning their matrimonial property regime.
The law applicable to divorce
The Article 5 of the European Union Regulation no. 1259/2010 of 20 December 2010 implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the law applicable to divorce and legal separation also gives future spouses a choice. However, if the theory is unlimited, the notary’s duty to advise the future spouses by directing them towards the law of a Member State of the European Union would be appropriate. Otherwise, there would be a significant risk that the choice made would not be respected by a judge exercising his functions in a third country.
The law applicable to maintenance obligations
Under the terms of the Article 8 of the Hague Protocol of 23 November 2007, future spouses may agree on the law applicable to their maintenance obligations, both for the purposes of deciding on matters concerning their union and for the consequences of their separation, regardless of the State of their subsequent residence. The Court of Justice of the European Union takes a broad view of the concept of a maintenance obligation, which may include both a maintenance allowance and a compensatory allowance granted at the time of divorce.
2. On the special formalism to be respected
Drawing up a marriage contract in an international context requires the skill of haute-couture, i.e. tailor-made. The notary must consider all the subtleties of drafting that will enable the Deed to be executed abroad. Everything must be done to avoid the marriage contract being challenged.
Proper understanding of the language used
The most important precautions are designed to ensure that the spouses understand properly and the sworn translation of the draft document if the future spouses do not have a sufficient mastery of the French language.
The content of the designated law
The drafting notary must also consider the foreign application of the contract by any Court to which the matter is referred. In this respect, it seems essential to mention the content of the designated law. If the future spouses choose the French law and a regime of separation of property as governed by our Civil Code, it will be important for the clauses to be sufficiently clear to be understood by any foreign lawyer. The mechanism for claims between spouses and their valuation methods will thus be explained in detail.
Due diligence regarding the formal validity
A marriage contract drawn up between future spouses residing in France is no less trivial. Whether the future spouses are of French or foreign nationality, their expatriation to countries outside the European Union, and more particularly to a country governed by Common Law, will require special precautions. Common law jurisdictions favour judgements in equity. There would therefore be a real risk that a marriage contract based on the separation of property under the French law could be set aside by an American judge who would redistribute the assets between the spouses in total disregard of the choice made prior to the marriage. To avoid this pitfall, clients should be asked about their professional future and life plans. If they are planning to move to the United States of America or the United Kingdom, it would be wise to adopt the formal requirements specific to Anglo-Saxon laws, i.e. send the draft Deed long enough before signing to allow the future spouses time to reflect, have each spouse assisted by a lawyer and draw up an inventory of the spouses’ present and even future assets.
Drawing up a prenuptial agreement in an international context requires the services of a specialist notary to ensure that it is executed abroad.