French lessons in family law by John Bolch

Family Law | 5 Feb 2014 1

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It seems that family law reform is in the air. Yesterday I posted about proposed reforms over here. Meanwhile, across the channel, the French Government has been attempting to pass a number of reforms to its family justice system.

Unfortunately (or not, depending upon your point of view), the French Government has postponed the reforms until next year. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worth having a quick look at the proposals, to see if there are any parallels with the situation over here, or any lessons to be learned.

Before I go on I should say that I have no expertise in French law. And I’m afraid I’ve not been able to find a detailed English language description of the reforms proposed by the French Government (I have long-since forgotten my ‘O’ level French). But the reports I have read indicate that they include the following:

Giving step-parents a legal status – this is interesting. Obviously, step-parents play a huge role in the lives of thousands of children, often effectively finding themselves in the position of the ‘absent parent’. Over here, step-parents do not automatically acquire any legal status visàvis the children, although they can apply to a court for it. It is interesting that the French reformers seem to be intending to give step-parents a status that they will acquire automatically, presumably once certain conditions are met, such as time spent with the children. I don’t recall such a proposal ever being suggested over here.

Regulating custody and visitation rights – I’ve not ascertained what this entails, but it is interesting that these are issues in France, just as they are over here. I wonder whether this is because they also have a vocal fathers’ rights movement in France?

Regulating maintenance payments between divorcing couples – again, I’ve not been able to ascertain what this entails precisely, so I can’t comment on this one.

Introducing mediation before divorce – this appears to be precisely what is happening over here, although the reports that I have read don’t say whether the mediation is to be compulsory. Over here, the Children and Families Bill will require anyone who wants to apply for a court order about a matter concerning children or family finances to first attend a mediation information and assessment meeting. I wonder whether, like here, the French proposal is being driven by a desire to cut costs.

Making adoption easier – this sounds very reminiscent of our own government’s policy of encouraging and improving the adoption system over here: see, for example, the Government’s Action plan for adoption: tackling delay and the document Further action on adoption: finding more loving homes.

Allowing adopted children to trace their real parents – this is one reform that has already happened over here. If I recall correctly, it came in back in the 1990. I remember someone I know tracing her natural mother. An adopted person here can trace a birth relative via the Adoption Contact Register.

The reports that I have read say that the above proposals are widely viewed as “positive and constructive”. However, it appears that two further proposals that weren’t in the original planned bill – assisted procreation for lesbian couples and surrogate motherhood for gay men who want children – were the catalyst for some 100,000 people demonstrating in Paris on Sunday against the reforms. It seems that that demonstration led President Hollande to shelve all of the reforms until next year. We will have to see whether this will only be a delay, or whether it will end up being a U-turn.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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    1. Andrew says:

      Allowing adopted children to trace their biological parents is wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s usually the mother they want to find and for her to see a stranger coming up the path and into her life can be a disaster for her.

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