Le Divorce: Part 2 – Getting a Lawyer (Beware!)

Le Divorce: Part 2 – Getting a Lawyer (Beware!)

divorce in France
© Rawpixel/Unsplash

In Part 2 of a three-part series on divorce in France, EL offers sound advice on how to seek the right lawyer to represent you in a split that could bring serious consequences to your life.

You might hope to be two untroubled people going your separate ways. More likely, preparing a divorce, you are in a state of shock, despair, and anxiety for your future and that of your children.

You are probably not in your best state of mind when you have to make a major life decision: who is your lawyer?

Can you find one to explain complicated laws in English, while you are totally stressed out? You have to share family secrets with this stranger. You might never have had anything to do with lawyers, who at times can seem a law unto themselves.

woman overwhelmed at work
© Oui/123RF

Welcome to the shark pool

This is not to say there are not some who are hardworking, dedicated professionals. But with more than 20,000 lawyers in Paris alone, stiff competition means a survival game and a hunger for blood money. You may end up paying stupefying fees up to 50K euros a year, and that will not guarantee sound guidance – you could be given advice that seeks to manipulate you into procedures that generate higher than necessary fees and drain family resources. You might be easy prey for this when you are upset and vulnerable and confused by French legalese. In addition, you may be facing conflicts with your ex over money and custody that you hadn’t bargained for.

Just how difficult can divorce be in France? Read Divorce in France: Part 1 – Hard Facts and Painful Truths.

career woman money worries
© Dmitrii Kotin / 123RF

Shopping for a good divorce lawyer

Lawyers cannot advertise in France. There is no web tool to assess their reputation. You can go by word of mouth and get lucky. You can go to the Palais de Justice in Paris, or a local accès aux droits point, where you can see a lawyer for free for 15 minutes. You can call lawyers from the Yellow Pages or the internet at random, and arrange a consultation. Most will charge for this, up to a thousand euros, while some do it for free. Whether the initial meeting is free does not determine how much they bill you later on.

Normally, under the 2015 loi Macron updated in 2017, lawyers need to draft a contract or convention d’honoraires before charging any fees, but many do not apply this for a first consultation. If you sign on, they must inform you in writing of their fees, their mission, and the total this is likely to cost. You can ask to modify this contract, for example, stipulating that you want to collaborate on strategy, which will protect you but not please the lawyers, and they may not comply.

Friends might tell you to trust your lawyer. However, not all of them are competent. Some lawyers have no experience in contentious divorces and will try to convince you to make peace when you know this is not possible because you know your partner. Others may try to get you into a divorce pour faute when you don’t want to spend years and lots of money citing fault in your ex. Some sign you on and pass you to a collaborateur whom you may not like and who may be fresh out of law school. A big cabinet will cost more than a one-man band.

For a deeper look into your rights on divorce in France with recommendations for lawyers, consult: https://www.divorcefrance.fr/

How much will a divorce cost?

You have three options for fees. You can pay a forfeit or a flat fee, or, more rarely, a percentage of your award sur le resultat with a reduced hourly fee. Most commonly, you pay by the hour based on their assessment. You will pay for every text, phone call, email, appointment, letter or defense they write, and their research. They are supposed to give you a detailed breakdown in their bills, but sometimes they take carte blanche.

The unbalanced power relationship with your lawyer is represented by their title: Maître, or literally, master. Lawyers take an oath called the serment d’un avocat, promising dignity, conscience, probity and humanity – which they may ignore.

While they might have a box of tissues in their office, they may declare, “Je ne suis pas votre psy,” or “I am not your shrink,” as a few friends have told me.

They might ignore your emails and phone calls; delay procedures when anticipating missing deadlines; neglect to inform you of your rights, best strategy, or details of procedures; and they tend to work at the last minute, giving you little review time. They have a right to drop you at any moment, keeping any fees you already paid. They might also refuse to hand over your documents to their successor, against protocol. Know that if they drop you, they are supposed to represent you until you find another lawyer. The judicial system gives them near impunity.

You must be careful to control the fees by creating well-organized files, with your documents annotated, keeping a copy for yourself.  Do your own research online or use books to stay informed. You have to be something of your own lawyer if you want the best outcome.

And don’t forget to take good notes during your meetings and to watch and see if your lawyer can read fast – communicate the need for speed as everything is so slow.

The last thing you need in this slow-administrative-process country is a slow lawyer.

In the next and final post on breaking up in France, Le Divorce: Part 3 – Get Support Over the Long Haul.

EL is an American writer and journalist, and mother of three. Her French husband's business pursuits brought them to France, where the children could be near his aging parents. He left her for another woman in 2011 and launched a challenging divorce. She volunteered to write frankly about potential consequences or hazards of a French divorce to help other expats.


  1. Hiring a good lawyer is often a hard task for us because we need to analyze the lawyers’ experience in instant response to the clients. Whether he had a good experience or not. So these are the main points to grasp before hiring a divorce lawyer. Find a best lawyer who can suggest good advice
    Divorce Lawyers in Bangalore to solve your issues relating to your case.

  2. This article doesn’t really answer the question: How do you find a good divorce lawyer?
    Based on my own experience I can offer some do’s and don’ts.
    First, the don’ts
    Don’t rely on well-meaning friends who recommend a lawyer based on friendship or family connections with the lawyer. I foolishly did this .. the lawyer was incompetent, my case was thrown out of court because he failed to file necessary documents, which cost me months of wasted time. I refused to pay him, and he did not press me.
    Don’t assume that going to a big-name firm will guarantee good service. After my first misadventure, I went to a fancy firm on avenue Hoche, recommended by a French lawyer friend. The firm doesn’t specialize in divorce law (what was I thinking?) and assigned my case to a young associate who was if anything even more incompetent than my first lawyer. She gave me terrible advice and billed me for lots of work that I hadn’t authorized. I complained to the managing partner… soon after this she left the firm, and I was assigned to yet another young associate who had zero experience in divorce law. I refused to pay my outstanding bill, and once again they did not press me.
    Finally — now we get to the “do” part :
    Definitely find a lawyer who specializes in divorces. A ‘generalist’ lawyer may or may not be competent in this area.
    Do some research (If you don’t speak French well enough, find someone to help)
    In my case I really needed help on the ‘liquidation des biens,” division of marital property. I started by doing some French-language Google searches on this subject, looking for lawyers who specialized in this, for example had been quoted in legal journals or published articles on the subject. I identified a few promising candidates this way, then narrowed the field by location, making sure they practiced regularly at the court where my case was being heard. I ended up with a terrific lawyer who is one of France’s leading experts on this subject. She was totally professional, efficient, and her hourly rate was much less than what was charged by the fancy “cabinet.”

    • Hello Claire

      You wouldn’t be able to tell me the name of this terrific lawyer would you?

      I have a dear friend going through this ghastly process at the moment who is having a hard time finding someone suitable. Thank you

      • Hello Claire,

        Could you indeed be so kind as to forward the details of the lawyer you said was great or that specialized in the ‘liquidation des biens’ & whose rate was not sky high? It would be so appreciated indeed…

    • Hello Claire,
      Me too. I’m desperate to find a good lawyer in France who speaks English. Could I have details of this lawyer you speak so highly of please.

    • Hello Claire,

      Could you indeed be so kind as to forward the details of the lawyer you said was great or that specialized in the ‘liquidation des biens’ & whose rate was not sky high? It would be so appreciated indeed…

  3. After a divorce, which took over 40,000€ ans three Lawyers, I wish I had read this article earlier.
    Finally, my husband’s sister, a Family Lawyer, gave me the name of someone highly competent.
    But by that time the incompetence of the first, and the laziness and greed of the second, had got me into an advanced mess. My final Lawyer salvaged the little she could from an extremely slim set of cards.
    After 40 years of marriage, I ended up with what my husband had stolen from me, bought with my inheritance, and not one centime.
    Vive the French Legal System, which absolutely does not defend woman. The bottom line.
    The ONLY things that count, are your Marriage Contract, and any papers you have signed.
    Adultery, your desperation and happiness have NOTHING TO DO with a Divorce in France.

    • It’s rare to have a civilized divorce. All the power to those who can. Thank you for sharing and offering more good advice.
      You deserve better!

    • Hi Louis, I have been petitioned a divorce from my husband based in France. Me UK
      He never worked not for any particular reason. He has a lot of inheritance but it seems he has grounds to hijack my small income. I have a court date I’m supposed to go to France I’ve decided to just ignore the whole thing since I can’t afford a solicitor..


seventeen − four =

All comments are moderated. If you don't see your comment right away, please be patient. It may be posted soon. There's no need to post your comment a second time. Thank you!