Hi friends. I recently wrote about how I went to court in France, to get dual citizenship for my son, while still living in America. You can find that article here. Today, I’m sharing the story of what happened after, and why we went to court in France again, for completely different reasons. Because this post is very heavy on legal facts, that were unique to our case, I kindly ask that you refer back to my legal disclaimer here. Thank you so much!
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 2 years since we went to court in France for the second time. In truth, I often find myself trying to forget the whole ordeal since looking back on it doesn’t exactly evoke a great deal of happy memories. But there is a lot gratitude, and it’s that which I try to focus on instead. Gratitude for the French judicial system, the judge who presided over our case, and above all, the attorney I hired specifically for these second proceedings.
Going back to court was never the plan. But only one year after we received our judgement, I learned from my bank that Ben’s father was not in compliance with child support- and hadn’t been for some time. I was understandably upset, and after almost a whole other of year of trying to work with him, I made the decision to go back to court in order to close the loopholes in our child support decree.
Fortunately, after extensive research, I found an attorney with whom I adored- if that’s even a way to describe one’s attorney. She was tough, no-nonsense, and she was French; an important factor for me given that my previous attorney was an American living in Paris. While one’s nationality makes no difference when procuring legal representation, it was important to me to have French attorney, to represent my French son, before a French court. After she reviewed the details, she agreed to take the case and we quickly got to work.
One question I am frequently asked is how does it work to have an attorney represent you in a foreign country. Each case is different, as are the laws. For us, France’s laws allowed me to be 100% represented by my attorney, meaning my presence was not required at any of the proceedings. But, I quickly learned there are caveats to everything when dealing with the French bureaucracy, and this was no exception.
Not long after my attorney filed the paperwork, I received a letter in the mail, along with some very depressing pamphlets, from the French government, notifying me that my presence was required in France to complete a mandatory mediation appointment with Ben’s father. This had to be completed before our hearing, or else the judge reserved the right to throw out the case.
The catch? It was July, our hearing was scheduled for December, and enclosed in my enveloppe was a list of only a few appointment times from which to choose. Frantically, I began the process of setting up appointments, booking flights and train tickets. Setting up these types of appointments in France in general is difficult- but this was the end of July, and offices had already begun shutting down for the whole month of August- when most people take their generous 5 week vacation.
I was confused. And angry. I had already been through the court process once in France, and mediation was never previously requested. Beyond that remained the fact that Ben’s father and I shared no assets, nor were arguing over custody- common issues addressed in mediation. It felt pointless, but given the consequences at stake, I complied, and with the amazing help from my parents, who took care of Ben, I went to France for mediation at the end of September in 2017.
Mediation was difficult. And there is really no other way to describe it. Having to sit with your ex, in front of a mediation team and (in a foreign language), comb through the darkest period of your life is not the greatest. But we got through it. And finally, a few months later in December of 2017, we had our hearing at the Grand Tribunal in Bourg-en-Bresse, in Ain.
Since I was in the States, and was not able to attend in person, I woke up that morning to an email from my attorney with a brief on how the proceedings went, and how glad she was that we had prepared all my financial documents to be easily understandable with the exchange rate and converting currencies.
One difficulty in international family court, as it relates to child support, is the exchange rate between the different currencies used by each parent.
For the most part, in the United States, child support is based off the salaries and living expenses of both parents. But in our case, things were much more complicated. I live in the United States, and am paid in USD. Ben’s father lived in France that uses the Euro, but was working in Switzerland at the time, and was being paid in Swiss Francs (CHF). Not only did we have to compare the cost of living between our two countries, but the court also analyzed the three different currencies and the exchange rate between them all, as well. Thankfully, the judge was understanding of having to take on such an endeavor, since it was a considerable amount of information to review.
In the end, it wasn’t until January that we received our judgement from the court. And in truth, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, although many things about the conclusion were favorable for us. That’s the difficult thing about going to court- or at least one of them- that you are putting your life in another person’s hands, and they are effectively making decisions for you that will affect your livelihood. It’s enough to drive a Type-A person like myself crazy, and it very nearly did. But in spite of that, I’m forever thankful that we did go to court, and that I did advocate for my son and seek out better representation who I felt I could genuinely trust.
It wasn’t easy. But it was absolutely, forever worth it.