CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

All you need to know about French matrimonial regimes before buying a French property

PUBLISHED: 16:34 03 April 2017

Structuring a French property purchase © Digital Vision / Thinkstockphotos

Structuring a French property purchase © Digital Vision / Thinkstockphotos


If you are buying a French property as a couple then there are a number of legal points to consider, including how to structure your property purchase and how to make use of matrimonial regimes for your inheritance planning, especially with new EU rules coming into effect

Sophie Hearle is a solicitor in the French legal services department at Ashtons Legal

What are matrimonial regimes?

Marriage in France is a very practical affair. French marriages are conducted under matrimonial regimes, and a marriage contract allows a couple to choose how their property is to be owned both during the marriage or upon dissolution of the marriage, either by divorce or death.

Matrimonial regimes do not exist in the UK and so France assimilates the UK system to the French regime of séparation de biens (explained below). It has been possible, however, for a British couple who own property in France to partially change their matrimonial regime in relation to their property, often providing significant estate planning advantages.

This is all set to change though with the entry of new EU regulations which implement new rules in relation to matrimonial regimes and civil partnership asset regimes coming into force on 29 January 2019.


Related articles

12 things you should know about buying a French property

The legal process of buying a French property


What are the different French matrimonial regimes?

Séparation de biens

This is the default regime for a British couple married in the UK. Each spouse holds their own assets separately from the other.

Communauté réduite aux acquêts

This is the default regime for a couple married in France where no marriage contract has been concluded. Under this regime, assets owned by the spouses before the marriage remain their respective assets, and assets gained during marriage belong to the couple. Upon the first death the assets in common ownership are divided in two and the deceased’s share will pass under their succession.

Communauté universelle

All the assets owned by the spouses on the day of marriage and any assets they may subsequently acquire are brought into common ownership. The marriage contract can include a clause d’attribution which allows for all of the deceased’s share of the assets to pass automatically to the surviving spouse upon the first death.

How can Brits with property in France use matrimonial regimes?

Under the 1978 Hague Convention on matrimonial property regimes, couples who married after 1992 are able to choose the law applicable to their matrimonial regime. Importantly, for Brits who own property in France, in respect of immovable property only (i.e. land and buildings), couples can choose to apply the law of the country in which that immovable property is situated. This has enabled many Brits resident in the UK who own a house in France to adopt the French matrimonial regime of communauté universelle avec clause d’attribution. This has been a very important estate planning tool as it has often allowed British couples to avoid French forced heirship rules upon the first death.


Related articles

How do EU inheritance laws impact me?

I wish I’d known that before buying my French property


What is going to change with the new EU rules?

From 29 January 2019 the choice of law options available will be restricted to the law of the habitual residence of either spouse, or the law of the nationality of either spouse. There will therefore no longer be the option for Brits resident in the UK to adopt a French matrimonial regime in respect of immovable property located in France.

The choice of law will apply to all assets wherever situated and even if the designated law is that of an EU state which has not ratified the regulations, or is that of a non-EU state. Brexit will have no impact upon the effect of the regulations as the UK will simply move from the former category to the latter.

How does this affect me?

At first glance, this would seem to be a significant blow for the Brits resident in the UK with property in France. However, this regulation should be considered alongside the EU succession regulation known as Brussels IV. Since its entry into force last year, many Brits have been able to elect for the law of England and Wales to apply to the devolution of their French property, allowing them to leave the entirety of their share to the surviving spouse, rather than having to abide by French forced heirship rules.


Related articles

New European inheritance rules explained

How do EU inheritance laws impact me?


Nevertheless, Brussels IV is still in the early days of interpretation and implementation, and there are still a number of areas of uncertainty. In light of these uncertainties it has been advisable for married couples, where possible, to rely upon existing estate planning structures such as a change of matrimonial regime. Given that this option will be taken away from couples from 29 January 2019 it is very much hoped that the uncertainties surrounding Brussels IV will have been resolved, but in reality it is likely to take many more years. It is therefore important for British couples with property in France to consider implementing a change of matrimonial regime while this option is still available.

We recommend seeking advice from a specialist lawyer regarding your particular circumstances to ensure that you have the most appropriate estate planning provisions in place.

Other ways to structure a French property purchase:

1. Buying a property ‘en tontine

A tontine clause can be inserted into the acte de vente. This means that the surviving spouse is treated as having owned the property wholly from the start, so retains the right to live in it or sell it. The tontine clause is only available at the point of purchase and cannot be added later.

2. Buying a property through a Société Civile Immobilière

An SCI is a French property-owning company that can sometimes be a useful method of managing property. The owners own shares in the company rather than the property itself which gives flexibility in terms of partially transferring ownership or bringing new parties in.


Related articles

3 types of joint property ownership in France

Tax rules for unmarried couples


More from French Property

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Don’t get caught out – it’s as important to understand your legal obligations when selling a property in France as it is when buying one

Read more
Buying guides
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ruth Wood looks at the French property hotspots where British buyers search for their dream home

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Seen a bargain French property that just needs a bit of work to turn it into a dream home? If your heart is set on a renovation project, do your sums first, advises architect Nick Adams

Read more
New-build property in France
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A new apartment development is available for investment in the Alpine expat haven of Annecy in Haute-Savoie

Read more
French Alps
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why your trusty high-street bank might not be the place when it comes to getting the best currency deal

Read more
Buying guides
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Don’t be bamboozled by strange foreign exchange terms – this handy currency transfer jargon buster explains all!

Read more
Buying guides
Thursday, August 23, 2018

Is a ‘notary public’ in the UK the same as a ‘notaire’ in France?

Read more
Buying guides
Monday, July 23, 2018

Dealing with a loved one dying is difficult in any circumstances, let alone in a different country. To simplify the process as much as possible, here are the administrative procedures and legalities you need to know about when dealing with a death in France

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

With income tax soon to be deducted at source in France, how might this affect you?

Read more
Working in France
Friday, August 24, 2018

Find out how the new flat tax of 30% on income from financial investments works in France

Read more
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now