The reform of French contract law

- Newsletter

French contract law has been fundamentally reformed by Regulation No. 2016-131 of 10 February 2016, which has entered into force on October 1st, 2016. It governs all contracts concluded since that date. Extensive transitional law issues are expected.

Since the beginning of September 2016, hw&h has offered training for in-house counsels on the reform. We recommend a review of all contract terms from October 1st, 2016 onwards. Careful attention needs to be paid to contract renewals signed after October 1st, 2016.


The Code Napoléon has been governing contract law for more than two centuries without any major changes; it impressed by the elegance of its language and writing style. Despite this elegance, the content of the Code turned out to be increasingly disconnected from changing practices, mentalities and culture. The Code had to evolve in order to remain up to date, which was made possible through an abundant case-law. This inflation of praetorian law made the code difficult to read and affected its competitiveness compared to neighbouring countries and European initiatives on contract law.

The aim of the reform was therefore to restore the consistency and readability of French contract law in order to increase its attractiveness on the international scene. One of the reform’s aspirations was to facilitate the understanding of French contract law. The French Civil Code has been reorganised, following a chronological approach corresponding to the life of the contract. A great effort has also been made to better define legal terms, thus,  rendering French contract law easier to read.

The Regulation does not dramatically change French contract law: it often simply codifies existing case-law, sometimes clarifies divergent case-law and occasionally corrects an unfortunate precedent. On some points, the Regulation shows innovative boldness, in particular in abandoning the iconic notion of causa that dominated French contract law as well as in admitting the renegotiation of agreements in case of hardship.

Please note that legal provisions regulating liability (contractual & tortious liability) remain unchanged; there are on-going thoughts to reform this part of the civil code as well, but no formal legislative proposal has been issued yet……More Information in French