It can be very complex to decide the lieu de résidence (place of residence) of a child, something previously known in France as le droit de garde (custody rights).

Only 1 in 5 children live with their father, although this trend has been on the increase in recent years.

Joint custody is possible, i.e. 1 or 2 weeks with one parent and 1 or 2 weeks with the other. This is known as la résidence alternée - alternating residence.

It is the Family Court judge (le juge aux affaires familiales) who decides which parent a child will live with. In extreme cases, for example those involving violence or alcoholism, the child may be placed with a third party if it is deemed to be in their best interests.

Indeed, the best interests of the child always form the basis of any custodial decision made by the judge. The wishes of the parents or their well-being are not taken into account if they are deemed contrary to the interests of the child.

In the majority of cases, the parent with whom the child does not principally reside is usually still given visiting and access rights. Again, these rights are based upon the child's best interests and will normally take the form of every other weekend and half of all school holidays. The idea is that no one parent has custody for a prolonged period of time. If this becomes the case, the judge may amend access rights.

A financial contribution towards the education and upkeep of the child is agreed if requested by the parent the child lives with. This will take into account the needs of the child and the incomes of the respective parents.

Today, any financial contributions are calculated on a case by case basis (although an indicative scale exists), taking into account whether the parents have re-married or are cohabiting; if this is the case, then the income of their new partner is also taken into account.

Contributions are not set in stone. They are indexed based on the cost of living and the INSEE website allows you to easily calculate how they will be adjusted each year. A judge may also reassess the contributions if circumstances change. For this, a parent needs to go to court to petition the judge (the greffe can provide the necessary forms) and to attend the hearing with a copy of all the relevant paperwork. The use of the lawyer is not mandatory.