Previously we reported how British woman Samantha Dyke (along with her sister), living in the UK, received a demand for €100,000 in care home fees for her British father in France with whom she has had no contact since she was two.
If you have elderly relatives living in France, you could be asked to pay for their upkeep, no matter where in the world you live.
This is due to France’s obligation alimentaire laws, under which people are responsible for giving material help to their descendants, forebears or spouse if they are in need.
Couples who simply live together are not concerned.
The French government website for information about services for older people states that the obligation may be fulfilled “in kind”(for example, through free accommodation or food) or through financial help.
It adds: “Those subject to the obligation may, notably, be asked to pay part of the accommodation costs of a family member in a retirement home.”
Article 205 of the Code Civil also says: “Children owe sustenance to their father and mother, or to other forebears who are in need.”
This “sustenance” could involve paying for the relative’s upkeep, carer costs or care home fees, as British woman Samantha Dyke discovered.
The obligation alimentaire is not limited to immediate family. Here is a list of who else it can cover:
- Spouse, even if a couple are separated. In this case, a judge may fix the obligation alimentaire to be paid or provided, unless the person in need is responsible for the separation and has seriously neglected their own spousal obligations.
The obligation ceases after a divorce. Couples who are civil partners (pacsés) promise when they sign their pacte civil de solidarité (Pacs) to support each other financially, but this obligation ceases if the union is broken.
- Parents and grandparents. This applies if there is no living spouse who can provide for them, unless the parent or grandparent in question has seriously neglected their own obligations towards their (grand)children – for example, by abandoning them or being violent towards them.
A child may also be exempt if they were taken from the family home before the age of 12 and have been absent from it for at least 36 months, or if their parent has abdicated responsibility.
- Adult children. Parents must continue to support their offspring if they are studying, looking for work or suffering from an illness or disability which prevents them supporting themselves.
Parents can only avoid paying for their adult child’s upkeep if they do not have sufficient resources or if the child has behaved particularly badly towards them – for example, acts of violence.
This obligation alimentaire ends if a child is financially independent.
- Step-parents. If a child’s parents remarry, the children may be required to help their step-parent while their biological parents remain alive.
- Parents-in-law. Article 206 of the Code Civil states: “Sons and daughters-in-law must also, and in the same circumstances, provide for their in-laws” – apart from in the case of divorce from, or the death of, the spouse at the centre of the connection with this extended family.
However, if you have children who are the grandchildren of these in-laws, you may still be required to help your in-laws. There is no obligation towards the parents-in-law in the case of Pacs couples.
- Children-in-law. Just as children-in-law must assist their parents-in-law if they are in need, parents must provide for the spouses of their children.
What counts as ‘in need’ and are foreign nationals liable?
A person can claim aide alimentaire from family if they are unable to support themselves, that is, access everything they need in order to live a normal life.
Therefore, if they cannot pay for food, clothes, heating, electricity, accommodation and healthcare, they may appeal to family for help.
If these funds are not provided voluntarily, relatives may be required to pay by a family affairs judge, who will take into account the extent of the claimant’s need and the ability of the family to provide.
If a person has been irresponsible with money or failed to work through idleness, a court may not require family members to pay, as their need must be “involuntary”.
Equally, if the relative has modest means they are likely to be asked to pay a reduced amount, or nothing at all.
The Connexion has only rarely heard of non-French residents being asked to pay, though in theory they may still be liable.
Brexit stopped a system of reciprocal recognition of court judgements, but barristers Ian Forrester and Duncan Fairgrieve said the possibility of judicial cooperation and of enforcement in the UK has not ended, but it would be more complex than before.
An application would have to be made to the UK courts and it is uncertain if they would comply.
Even so, lawyers say it is best to defend yourself in the French courts, if necessary on appeal, rather than waiting to defend yourself in the UK, where it is likely to be more costly.