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Buying as a couple - how do we do it?

The legal steps you need to take when buying a house in France will vary depending on your martial status

VIEW of the various possible marital and civil union partnerships available in France it is important to consider the main differences when buying a home.

It is common when marrying to draw up a marriage contract with a notaire specifying how property will be owned by the couple.

The type of contract will be important in deciding who a property belongs to on resale, in a divorce or for inheritance matters, say Andreas Pichler ( and Jean-François Blet ( from the notaire’s office in Le Beausset in the Var.

If there is no contract the default regime is the communauté de biens réduite aux acquêts (common ownership of goods bought during the marriage), but the most common forms of contract are either the communauté (community) or the séparation des biens (separation of assets).

In a communauté if the couple buy a home it belongs to them equally.

With the separation of assets, ownership is according to the percentage indicated in the title deed for each partner, which varies according to how much financing each one puts in.

Where a couple buying in France have a British marriage, the issue of contract types is less likely to be relevant and the wording on the property deeds is crucial - for example, if it says the house is bought by Mr and Mrs X, they will own it 50/50, but if it just says it is bought by Mr X, spouse of Mrs Y, it is owned by the husband.

Note however that a British couple can have their marriage registered in France with a notaire so as to then draw up a marriage contract in relation to any French property.

It is also possible to retrospectively change a French marriage contract for another kind.

For property purchases today, hardly any difference exists between a married or a pacsed couple because pacsed partners can choose from similar contract types.

A British civil partnership has now been recognised by France as having the same effects in France as a pacs.

Civil partners cannot however register their partnership as a pacs so as to draw up a version of a marriage contract in France.

Finally if two people are neither married nor in a pacs or civil partnership, they may purchase the property under their own names for a percentage specified in the title deed.

A surviving partner is obliged to pay up to 60% of inheritance tax.

If the home is a holiday home, a way to avoid such a situation is by creating a société civile immobilière (SCI) in France - a private limited company formed to own the property - in which the shares depend on the country of their main residence and are administered in terms of inheritance laws of that country.

If you live in France an SCI would not help you avoid inheritance tax but could have other advantages - for example it can be more flexible if you want to make changes to the proportions of ownership.

Arranging a tontine clause in the deed at the time of purchase of the property, available to all couple types including people with SCIs, is another way to make sure full ownership passes to a survivor, but is more expensive than options like changing the marriage contract or arranging an SCI.

Whatever your situation we recommend you consult a notaire to find the best solution for you.

Connexion publishes a guide to forming an SCI, written in association with the Conseil des Notaires.

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