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August 25, 2009

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France ruling makes it easier to divorce

UNFAITHFUL spouses in France beware: Passionate text messages sent to mistresses and lovers can now be used as evidence against you in a divorce.

Experts say the recent ruling by France's Supreme Court to accept phone exchanges as legitimate proof of adultery will make it easier for people to get divorced.

The June ruling by the country's highest court went largely unnoticed until it was reported by the French media last week.

Previously, French husbands and wives often had to wait for years to escape a marriage if they could not prove that their spouse was misbehaving or mistreating them.

Text messages have long been accepted as official proof in murder and other criminal trials in France, and the new decision extends such practice into family law. E-mails are also accepted as evidence in trials.

Getting a divorce can be a lengthy and painful procedure in France. If the spouses fail to agree to separate by mutual consent, those filing for divorce must prove that the spouse was cheating or abusing or mistreating them.

If the judge is not convinced, a divorce will be pronounced only after 2 years of living separately. Up until 2004, French law required couples to wait as long as 6 years.

Over 273,000 marriages and nearly 135,00 divorces were registered in France in 2007, according to government data - meaning that 50 percent of marriages would likely end in divorce.

Lawyers hailed the ruling.

"It's a very good decision," said Paris divorce attorney Laurence Mayer. "It facilitates ... collecting evidence."

"I tell my clients: If they receive text messages with insults, threats, various things ... go and register that" with justice authorities, she said.

The June decision overturned a 2007 ruling by a Lyon court, which had declared that using phone exchanges in court was a breach of privacy, according to the Supreme Court Website.

Infidelity and other faults committed by spouses, however, do not affect child custody or asset division issues, Mayer said.

Justice officials say the ruling might prompt some unfaithful spouses to eliminate the evidence by quickly erasing those frivolous cell phone messages.

"If you leave the message in the phone in your pocket, there is a risk that your spouse will find it," said Guillaume Didier, spokesman for the Justice Ministry.

"Maybe people will now be more prudent when it comes to keeping their messages."


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