In the last segment of a three-part series on divorce in France, EL shares her insights on how not to be alone when facing the break up of a partnership.
For many people, getting divorced will be the most stressful event in their life.
Multiply the stress by a factor of ten for an expat in France, conducting a divorce in a foreign tongue, far from family and old friends.
The worst divorces can be long and nasty. Friends with good intentions offer shoulders to cry on until compassion fatigue sets in. Sometimes they don’t want to take sides or don’t know what to say. You may be dragged into years of hostility: a marathon, not a sprint.
At worst, you may be a victim of abuse as well as betrayal that can take years to get over. I know several expat women who have, as a consequence of their divorce in France, succumbed to cancer or other illnesses. Several lost custody of their children, at least temporarily.
Just how difficult can divorce be in France? Click here to read Le Divorce: Part 1 – Hard Facts and Painful Truths
Reaching out to take care of yourself
One of the most important things to do besides finding a good lawyer is to take care of your physical and mental health. This might mean finding a support group. Some are run by various expat associations, or you can set up a Meetup yourself. You might need a therapist or coach. If you cannot afford these, you should at least read some self-help books or websites. I have met some women who have felt they were delivered by their faith, and built their resilience through prayer or meditation. Perhaps it goes without saying, but you should make a bigger effort than ever to sleep and eat well, and get plenty of exercise whenever possible to keep up your fitness and morale.
For victims of abuse, there is a domestic violence help group in Paris of the same name, which provides much-needed support and counseling. Another English-speaking association you can call is Pathways which offers listening services and advice for women trying to escape conjugal violence on foreign soil. There are also a number of online support groups such as Right to Protect, where one member offers advice and services to expats in difficult divorces for a minimal fee. Another fellow expat who has lived through a similarly hard experience offers affordable service and advice in Paris on family matters.
For a deeper look into your rights on divorce in France with lawyer recommendations, consult: https://www.divorcefrance.fr/
Understand who is on your side
Depending on the nature of your divorce, you may feel backs turning on you. Even in the best possible scenario, you are likely to lose friends as people take sides even unconsciously, and some will prefer to socialize with couples only. You will lose time with your children, who might be angry with you. You have to take over jobs that were once delegated to your partner.
In the worst cases, an aggressive partner can empty or even shut down your joint account and cancel your credit cards. Harcèlement moral or, psychological violence, is rather prevalent and has been illegal here since 2010. But this law is difficult to enforce.
Abuses can be documented in a statement called a main courante, but the police may not follow up. Sometimes they do not accept complaints or plaintes, unless there is severe physical violence, and even if they do, many of these are classées sans suite by the Procureur, and come to nothing.
An ex can get quite unreasonable and start making up lies about you, including about your behavior as a parent. In this case, a French divorce can involve social services or even a psychiatric review of your family. While this ordeal goes on, the abusive partner may be put in charge of managing your joint assets, while supposedly keeping you fully informed. All of this pressure can put you in an unhealthy state of anxiety while you are also trying to sell your family home and downsize.
Searching for a divorce lawyer? Beware! Read Le Divorce: Part 2 here
With le divorce comes la liberté
The good news is that this too shall pass. Whether you decide to stay in France or take off in a new direction, once divorced you will have a new sense of freedom and accomplishment. You may have discovered who you really are, and who your real friends are. You can be proud of yourself, and offer compassion to others.
Reach out to other expats to offer your support and maybe they’ll be there for you one day. Remember: you are not alone.