Article published in Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring 2010) p. 83-94 by the American Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Alain CORNEC & Julie LOSSON, Paris Bar
US lawyers (and their clients) dealing with French cases have been infuriated for ages by the so-called “national jurisdiction privilege”, which thwarted enforcement in France of foreign decisions.
This two-century old line of French cases has disappeared and the result is good for American matrimonial lawyers. The French Cour de Cassation strongly limited the traditional judge-made interpretation of the law, upon which a French citizen always has a right to sue a foreign national and be sued by a foreign national in France solely on the basis of French nationality. This reading blocked enforcement of most foreign judgments.
The new rule is leading to a complex, and evolving, case law concerning recognition of judgments, lis pendens, and forum non conveniens, which may lead American practitioners to consider reviving former “hopeless” cases.
In France, the new Prieur case ended long-standing case law that made France a “safe harbor” for the assets of French defendants. They could, most of the time, avoid enforcement of foreign civil judgments. A change of case law is retroactive in France. Therefore, a United States decision that was previously unenforceable due to the French nationality of the defendant can now be enforced. This change in private international law is important for family law practitioners with active international cases in France. Older cases where foreign attorneys have not attempted to enforce in France may now be enforceable. If enforcement had previously been attempted and rejected, the cases cannot be reopened. However, if there has been no previous enforcement attempt, the judgments still may be enforceable in France if the judgment remains enforceable in the State where it was rendered and enforcement is sought before June 2018. Later, the possibility of enforcement may be ended by the new 2008 French statute of limitation.