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The Personal Status in French Law: With Special Focus on Overseas Territories

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image of International Journal on Minority and Group Rights

France has reputation as a highly centralised unitary state. In the background there is, however, a long history of particularism: during the pre-Revolutionary ancien régime, the country had a large number of local coutumes. The colonies formed another question: even after the Revolution of 1789 they were considered as an exception to the major rule. From the 18th century France has used the notion spécialité legislative, which recognises the legal difference in overseas areas. This policy continues in modern France as a different legal treatment of more integrated overseas regions (former territories) belonging to the European Union, and the other overseas collectivities, more loosely connected to Metropolitan France. Signs of legal pluralism can be found from both Metropolitan France and overseas collectivities, but three of the last-mentioned are of special interest to this article: New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Mayotte. In all of them the French Constitution recognises the existence of separate personal status. In New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna this status is closely related to indigenous custom, dominating the daily life in family relations and land owning. In Mayotte, the personal status is a mixture of Islamic law and African customary law. In other overseas collectivities there are also remnants, or pockets, of personal status visible, but they have no constitutional or official legal recognition. The article shows that although the official French policy has considered the personal status a transitory measure, it is not completely vanishing. In the Pacific region it is even strengthening, as the example of New Caledonia well indicates.

Affiliations: 1: Researcher, PhD, LeCtra, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland,


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