The patrimonial effects of marriage

Marriage is a legal union between two people who commit to each other. The spouses commit to a community of life, and vow to owe each other mutual respect, fidelity, help and assistance, according to the French Civil Code. But beyond the moral aspect, it is the matrimonial regime that rules the interests of the spouses during their life together. 

The legal matrimonial regime

In France, spouses who marry without a marriage contract automatically fall under the regime of common property reduced to acquests. This is the matrimonial regime by default. Under this regime, movable or immovable property owned by the spouses before marriage remains their personal property. In that case, the property is referred to as personal property. 

On the other hand, property acquired and income received by the spouses during the marriage are common property. Since this matrimonial regime applies automatically in the absence of a marriage contract, no formalities need to be accomplished to benefit from it. 

Marriage contract and other matrimonial regimes

A marriage contract allows spouses to choose their matrimonial regime. An international family lawyer can help you find the right one. 

What is a marriage contract?

A marriage contract is a legal act that the spouses sign in order to define their patrimonial relations and the fate of their property during and after the marriage. It makes it possible to anticipate the events that may occur during the marriage (death of one of the spouses, divorce, etc.). Personalized clauses can be inserted in the marriage contract so that it suits the situation of the spouses as best as possible. 

The marriage contract is concluded by the future spouses before the celebration of their union, under the terms of article 1395 of the French Civil Code which states that: “Matrimonial agreements must be drawn up before the celebration of the marriage and can only take effect on the day of this celebration“. It is possible to modify the marriage contract at a later date. 

The universal community regime

Contrary to the legal regime of common property reduced to acquests, the regime of universal community does not automatically apply to spouses. It therefore requires the conclusion of a marriage contract before a notary. Under this regime, all property owned by the spouses is pooled, regardless of the date of acquisition, its origin and the way it is financed. The universal community makes it possible to ensure the future of the surviving spouse by allocating all the assets of the spouses to him or her, without any formality having to be accomplished. The death of one of the spouses gives the surviving spouse full ownership of the deceased’s patrimony. 

The separation of property regime

Under this regime, there is no pooling of assets. What each spouse owns before and after marriage (property, donations, investments…) is differentiated. All property, or income from property owned before or after marriage (or acquired by donation or inheritance) therefore remains the property of the spouse, who manages it autonomously. Under the regime of separation of property, the spouses thus keep their patrimonial independence. 

There is, however, an exception concerning conjugal residence. To sell it, the agreement of both spouses must be obtained, even if the property belongs to only one of them. 

The joint ownership of acquired property regime

This matrimonial regime is special in that it gives to the spouses the advantages of the separation of property regime and the common property reduced to acquests regime. Thus, during marriage, the joint ownership of acquired property regime operates as if the spouses were married under the separation of property regime.

When the marriage is over, however, the property held by the spouses at the time of the marriage (the original patrimony) is compared with the property they hold at the time of dissolution (the final patrimony). Each spouse is then entitled, in value, to half of the net enrichment of the other (called the acquests in french law). 

This regime thus makes it possible to combine patrimonial independence with a logic of pooling. 

Financial and material management of the household

During the marriage, solidarity between the spouses is imposed for debts contracted by one of them, provided that the purpose of the expense is home maintenance or the education of the children. In addition, family property law grants protection to the family home. This means that the spouses do not have individual rights over the family home. Therefore, one of the spouses will not be able to sell the home without the agreement of the other spouse.