Navigating the murky waters of French beauracracy and immigration legislation can oftentimes seem terribly daunting if not downright impossible. From websites providing round about and unclear answers to seemingly simple questions to information helplines that are continually “temporarily unavailable,” it’s no wonder that expatriates in France often decide that not knowing can’t really hurt them that much. After all, they finally have the holy grail that is their carte de séjour ; what’s the worst that could happen? In reality, the worst could be really bad. Here’s one example:
The 3-year rule of living together when married to a French national to keep the Carte de Sejour:
Over seven years ago, a new regulation was passed making the legal assumption that if an international marriage (one French and one foreign spouse) did not last for at least three years, it was a fake marriage and the foreign spouse would automatically lose the right to live legally in France, even if he/she was qualified for other status.
As a recent case shows, Americans do not get preferential treatment on all issues. In some cases, like this one, the prefecture applies the law without much leniency. If the foreign spouse had legal residency in France before getting married, he/she can usually ask for a change of status if the marriage appears legitimate. But if the foreigner lacked French residency before the marriage and got his/her situation regularized that way, then the rule tends to be applied quite strictly.
The two essential conditions for regularization are:
1 – Have a legal marriage recorded with the proper French authority (i.e., if the wedding was performed outside of France, it complicates matters considerably); and
2 – Live together as a normal couple. There is plenty of room for interpretation here, but what the prefecture is looking for is a joint income tax declaration, a joint bank account, each person named as a dependant for health coverage, both names on all utility bills, and so on.
In addition, the French spouse must be present to submit the application. As a side issue, in my experience the French spouse often uses this requirement as a bargaining tool in a form of arm-twisting or blackmailing – and, interestingly enough, none of these cases involved fake marriages from what I could see.
It may still be worthwhile to try to persuade the prefecture that your case is different. Just be sure to prepare yourself for a difficult time at the prefecture and put together the best file possible. Also, note that the prefecture does not differentiate among the various scenarios that lead to separation, even when it comes to who left home or who is filing for divorce, and on what grounds.
Many foreigners believe, quite wrongly, that if the French spouse runs away, files for divorce or is guilty of some wrongdoing, the provision does not apply to them.
The law only defines one reason for a waiver, and that is if the foreign spouse has left home because of documented physical violence. Still, although I have never had a client ask to benefit from this provision, I am quite sure that the prefecture expects full criminal documentation and not simply a statement from a doctor.