The Hague Convention of 14 March 1978 provides for various cases of automatic change in matrimonial regime merely because of a change of residence.
We often talk about "involuntary" change of matrimonial regime, of "time bomb" and of "unsafe" automatic mutability because many spouses are unaware that they have changed their matrimonial regime simply by having moved. What is more, when spouses do become aware of the situation, it is often too late. This automatic mutability can present considerable difficulties in determining the property owned by each spouse, particularly in the context of an estate or divorce settlement.
This risk is a real one for all spouses married after 1 September 1992 and who did not sign a prenuptial contract before their wedding or specify under which law they married. For them, the law on habitual residence will replace the previously applicable law in three situations:
*When the couple set their new habitual residence in the territory of the State of which they are both nationals. In this case the spouses are automatically and immediately subject to the law of that State.
(Example: two French nationals had settled in England after their marriage in 1994. No marriage contract had been signed. If they return to settle in France, they will automatically be subject to French law and therefore the legal regime of community of aquests (limited to assets acquired after the marriage).
*When the couple establish their habitual residence for at least 10 years in a country different from that of their first marital residence. In this situation, from the 11th year, the law of the State where the spouses have their habitual residence will replace the law previously applicable.
* If the spouses were previously subject to their common national law in the absence of common residence in the same State at the time of marriage. However, it is necessary that the State of nationality has not made a declaration in favour of the national law.
(Example: two Moroccan spouses were married in Morocco in 1995, without a prenuptial contract prior to their marriage. The husband was already working in France and returned there to live after the wedding while his wife remained in Morocco. In the absence of a common habitual residence, the spouses were therefore subject to Moroccan law and separation of property. When the wife came to join her husband in France, the couple automatically became subject to the French legal regime of community of acquests (limited to assets acquired after the marriage). )
To avoid the difficulties entailed by this automatic change of matrimonial regime, it is strongly recommended, in an international context, to have a marriage contract drawn up in presence of a notary in order to fix the choice of matrimonial regime. To this end, Ms. Alexandra ETASSE, in charge of the International Department of the Etasse et Associés law office, will advise and assist you in choosing the matrimonial regime best suited to your situation.