Does French law take precedence over British law?

My sister has gone through a divorce in the UK. The judge awarded their house in France to him. I read a post which said that French law takes precedence over English law in France and the judge cannot force her to sell. My sister’s ex-husband says that the house is now his and he can do what he wants with it – but would he still need my sister’s permission to sell? He is in the process of selling. P.H.

21 November 2018

I cannot comment on the specific UK court order which you say awarded ownership of the French house to your sister’s ex-husband.

What I can say is that we often deal with transfers of ownership following a divorce where either the UK court orders the transfer of ownership from joint names into the name of one party, or where the parties agree in a Consent Order that one will transfer their half-share of a French property to the other as part of the overall settlement.

A notaire in France will act on a UK Court Order or a Consent Order. If one party refuses to co-operate, it is possible to go back to the UK court to force the reluctant joint owner to act. In your sister’s case, she could be forced to co-operate.

If she has not yet signed any French document to transfer her share of the house to her ex-husband, the house is still jointly owned by the two of them. If her ex wishes to sell, your sister will either need to sign both a sale contract and the final sale deed, or will be asked to sign a Power of Attorney authorising one of the clerks of the notaire’s office in France to sign on her behalf. The notaire will need to see the Court Order and is likely to require a certified translation.

In summary, if the property is jointly owned and she has not signed any French deed transferring ownership to him, he cannot sell without her involvement.

If the property has been marketed via an estate agent, the agent should have obtained your sister’s consent as a joint owner before starting any marketing and your sister should have been asked to sign a sale mandate.

Question answered by Barbara Heslop of Heslop & Platt

Tel: +44 (0)113 393 1930 -

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