How does debt collection enforcement work in France?

3 min.
If you have failed to recover your debt in the extra-judicial phase, then the next step is to initiate legal proceedings. Provided everything goes rights, after a lengthy and costly procedure in France, a creditor can obtain a favourable court settlement. However, once obtained, a debtor will not pay voluntarily. Therefore, it is necessary to enforce the court’s decision to recover the full amount you, as a claimant, are entitled to.

Obtaining an enforceable title in France

Regardless of which legal procedure is followed, under an enforcement measure, a debtor is obliged to comply with the court’s verdict.

In order to enforce a measure in France, you much first obtain an enforceable title. This can either be a verdict reached by the court, a notary deed or a settlement agreement after the deadline to appeal has expired. This verdict will first be served by a bailiff to your debtor. Once an enforceable title has been served, then the debtor is obliged to either:

  • Do or refrain from doing something
  • To give or return something
  • To repay an amount, this can be for example an outstanding amount or penalty.

Once the Court’s decision has become definitive, you can request the Court to include the ‘execution clause’. After conducting a thorough check, the court clerk can ensure that the verdict will be served. With a stamped and signed form called the ‘formule exécutoire’, the court’s verdict is officially enforceable.

Enforceable debt collection measures in France

With the possession of an enforceable title retrieved from the Court, you can now proceed with the execution of an enforceable measure. In France, it is always a bailiff who will proceed with the enforcement of the judgement. Although there are several varieties of enforcement procedures, below are the most common procedures that are used in France:

Seizure of bank accounts: Saisie-attribution

L. 211-1s of the French Civil Enforcement Proceedings Code
This measure is frequently used since it is the most cost-effective solution. A bank seizure consists of confiscating a sum present in the bank account of a debtor. A bailiff will identify all the bank accounts registered under your debtor’s name and proceeds with the seizure of the money in these accounts to the amount of the debt.

Firstly, the bailiff will declare the seizure to the bank and freeze the amount present in the account. The bank will then evaluate if there is enough money in the account to repay the claim. After doing so, the bailiff will then inform the debtor of the seizure. The debtor will have one month to declare its opposition. If the debtor does not contest, then the reclaimed amount will be transferred to the bailiff.

In some cases, a bank seizure may not be as straightforward. For instance;

  • In the case where the debtor opposes the seizure, a judge specialized in enforcement matters will be consulted. It can take between three to six months for the judge to make a decision.
  • Although this procedure is relatively inexpensive, the costs of the bailiff will have to be established in advance by the claimant. The cost of this procedure will then be recovered from the amount seized.
  • If your debtor has insufficient funds in their bank account, then it is likely that the bank seizure will fail. After all, the bank will have to evaluate and ensure that their client, your debtor, still has enough funds to resume their immediate day-to-day requirements.

Seizure of assets: Saisie-vente

L. 221-1s of the French Civil Enforcement Proceedings Code
This measure consists of seizing the movable goods from the debtor and proceeds with the sale of these goods to recover the amount of the debt.

In this procedure, the bailiff will first serve a formal payment request to the debtor. If the debtor refuses to pay within eight days, the bailiff will list the goods of your debtor before having them forcibly removed. The debtor then has the choice to sell the goods or to allow the bailiff to sell them during a public auction. After the sale, the profit will be divided between the creditors who have an enforcement title.

The costs for seizing your debtor’s assets will be determined by the creditor and may be recovered from the profits of the sale of goods. In most cases, this can fluctuate depending on several factors, such as if the debtor decides to sell the goods themselves or if the bailiff does this.

Other measures

If the bank seizure or seizure of assets is not applicable for your debt collection case, then there are other existing enforcement measures. For instance, the seizure of intangible rights or goods or foreclosure. However, these procedures are less common and more restricted.

Obtaining an international enforceable title

Obtaining a favourable decision regarding unpaid debt is the first important step. However, the claimant should be aware that recovering a verdict through judicial proceedings can be a lengthy process. The success of a debt recovery case will ultimately be determined once your debtor repays the entire amount of the claim.

Our international debt collection specialists

If you have a debt collection in France, then you may encounter different business practices, rules and regulations than those you are used to. Our native French debt collection specialists and lawyers are experienced in the French legal system. Once obtaining a verdict, we can help you obtain an enforceable title against your debtor. For more information or advice, feel free to contact us.