My Experience With Near-Financial Ruin During COVID

Over the last year I’ve had my fair share of money issues, mes amis — and let me say they were no fun. I’d lost my job temporarily because of COVID and didn’t realize that my landlords couldn’t kick me out or try to evict me while the pandemic was ongoing, so I started to think of ways I might save my financials. Remember, the French don’t like talking about money. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do. 

On a road trip to Texas over the summer, I was lucky enough to run into a pair of lawyers from Toronjo & Prosser Law. They helped me figure out that bankruptcy probably wasn’t in the cards for me (at least not while my financial situation was getting even worse), and that I should probably wait to see what the next year would bring. The laws in place to help victims of coronavirus would help me, they said. So I’ve waited. And thankfully my job has opened up again and I’m back at work.

But it got me thinking about all the differences between the United States and France or Europe when it comes to insolvency. Things work a lot differently overseas. The process does, anyway — we can still declare bankruptcy, so to speak.

Our petitions for bankruptcy in France certainly don’t take as long to process, and our legal representatives can get into a lot of trouble if they screw up. In the United States, everything takes forever while the government double-checks everything — and your lawyers basically get a slap on the wrist if they screw up, while you just get literally screwed. Okay, not literally. But you get the idea. Things are harder and more complicated here.

Bankruptcy in France is temporary and doesn’t last long. The average amount of time is only six months, and usually a business or credit is sold off by then. In the US, those who have declared bankruptcy are barred from doing it again for years and years — and this is why the lawyers from Texas told me I was better off waiting. To do otherwise would have resulted in a significant reduction in options if my finances didn’t turn around soon. And then I’d really have been in trouble.

Court in general is just very different in France. We didn’t even have access to class action lawsuits until 2014, while you guys have been suing everyone for everything for decades. Even then, the standards are much higher. Damage must be material, not just financial. A judgement is never final until the authorities let both parties know that it was rendered — and if you don’t know you’re not obligated one way or the other. Here, you’re just in trouble whether you know or not. It’s sort of like getting a jury summons. Not knowing isn’t necessarily an excuse.