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Parentage under the French Draft PIL Code – Part 1

This post, written by Estelle Gallant, who is a Professor at the University of Toulouse Capitole, is the sixth in a series of posts concerning the proposed codification of French Private International Law. It is split into two parts: part one appears below, whereas part two will be published tomorrow. Previous posts relating to the French Draft Code addressed the issues of renvoiforeign law, the recognition of marriages and companies. A German perspective on the draft was also offered here.

The French draft code of private international law devotes an entire sub-section to parentage, comprising five subdivisions (labelled ‘paragraphes’ in French). They distinguish various aspects of international parentage, which is certainly a good initiative: biological parentage, medically assisted parentage with a third-party donor, surrogate motherhood carried out abroad, the effects of parentage and adoption are thus covered by Articles 59 to 70 of the draft code.

Currently, the French Civil Code contains fragmented provisions on biological filiation (Articles 311-14 to 311-17), on the one hand, and adoption, on the other (Articles 370-3 to 370-5). Case law has supplemented these provisions.

The draft Code devotes a first subdivision to biological parentage, containing three articles articulated around a general rule (Article 59 of the draft Code) and two special rules (Articles 60 and 61 of the draft Code). These three provisions are presented by the drafters (see page 35 of the report on the draft code) as a recast of the existing system (see above, Articles 311-14 to 311-17 Civil Code). Indeed, analysis shows that the draft takes up the existing legal structure and system. Only the general rule is really recast, the two special rules being merely reworded and clarified at the margin.

This commentary will briefly present the general rule on biological parentage pursuant to Article 59 of the draft code; the special rules laid down in Articles 60 and 61 will be analysed in a later post. Within the general rule, the replacement of the national law of the mother by the national law of the child is the most positive contribution of the draft (see infra).

By stating that “unless the present Code provides otherwise, the establishment and contesting of parentage” are governed by the national law of the child, the rule in Article 59 is presented as a general  principle. It means that the rule applies in the absence of a special rule.

Scope of Article 59

Article 59(1) of the draft Code refers to “the establishment and contesting of parentage”, whereas the provision currently in force refers to “parentage”. The clarification is useful in that it improves the readability of the provisions.

The text contains an unprecedented clarification as regards the inclusion in the scope of the article of the settlement of conflicts of parentage (Article 59(2)). The solution is marked by a certain logic and has to be combined with the special rule in Article 60. This latter provision is specifically concerned with voluntary acknowledgements of children (ie declaration by a person that he is the parent (typically father) of the child) and will be analysed in a later post.

New Connecting Factor

The current Article 311-14 of the Civil Code, by designating the national law of the mother on the day of the child’s birth to govern his or her filiation, is now the subject of unanimous criticism, in particular for its unequal and unspecific nature. The draft thus seeks to respond to the criticism by designating the child’s national law, a proposal that had been made by scholars as early as 1972. That said, the solution will remain relatively isolated, since in comparative private international law it is the connection to the child’s habitual residence that is generally retained.

Like the current text, the draft provides a solution to the change of nationality (conflit mobile) by fixing the connection to the child’s nationality on the day of birth. The solution is to be approved.

Public Policy Clause

One of the strongest criticisms levelled at the connection to the mother’s nationality was that it had the defect of preventing the establishment of the paternal parentage when the mother was of a personal status prohibiting the establishment of paternal parentage out of marriage, even in the presence of a French defendant or a French child or a child residing in France. Although the public policy exception may have been used by case law to cancel this result, its systematic use in such cases is only recent (Civ. 1ère, 26 October 2011, no. 09-71.369 ; Civ. 1ère,  27 September 2017, no. 16-19.654 ; Civ. 1ère, 16 December 2020, no. 19-20.948).

It may be noted that the draft Code provides for precisely this hypothesis in Article 59(3):

If, by reason of discrimination related to the circumstances of his or her birth, the [applicable] law denies the child the right to establish his or her filiation, French law shall apply, provided that the French courts have jurisdiction under the present Code.

The rule can be analysed as a special public policy clause allowing French law to be substituted for the prohibitive foreign law, if the French courts are seised. The link required between the situation and the territory of the forum for the exception to be triggered is fulfilled if French courts have jurisdiction under French rules of international jurisdiction. Pursuant to Article 34 of the draft Code, the courts with jurisdiction in matters of filiation are those of the place of domicile or habitual residence of the child.

The alignment between the criterion of jurisdiction and the criterion of triggering public policy is interesting and will make it possible, more than in the past, to cover all situations that are likely to trigger the public policy exception, i.e in case of strong proximity to France (e.g. French child or child residing in France, but also, above all, French defendant or defendant residing in France).

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