02 Oct Vovan, expertise and proximity
expertise and proximity
2 October 2019
A high-level Franco-Thai team works in the international law firm Vovan & Associés, which supports individuals, companies and investors in Thailand through four licenses: legal services, patent law, debt collection and notarial deeds.
25 people work here, versatile, since Vovan touches all the parts of the law. Vovan is originally a Parisian firm of international law created by Patrick Vovan, now retired. Frédéric Favre, who has worked in Lyon, Paris, Tokyo and Hanoi as a tax attorney, joined Vovan in 1998 to open this subsidiary in Thailand. Vovan Bangkok initially managed only business law, commercial law, corporate law and joint ventures. Today, Vovan is also very active in family law, as well as in litigation. For 20 years, the number of French and Francophones expatriates has increased so much that has also developed what is now called the “expat law” for which the firm’s teams act as local lawyers.
During a visit to the firm, we met five members of this unique team in Thailand gathered around Anne-Lise Leo Régnier, French notary based in Bangkok for more than 4 years, and who had already received us last year (read her interview in Latitudes 7).
Holder of a master’s degree in constitutional law and international comparative law at Aix-en-Provence, Julalak Phunsawat wanted to keep the French language back in Thailand. Vovan is her first law firm for which she has been working for five years now, mainly in family law and as manager of the team supporting litigation and judicial action.
Sébastien Bance, for almost 3 years at Vovan, where he works mainly on corporate law, taxation and real estate law, was looking for an international experience to practice his profession as a lawyer.
A Thai lawyer, Chakkrit Maneewan studied law in France, in La Rochelle. His main goal was also to keep the French language. He has been working in the firm for over 4 years on real estate law, the family and all the commercials.
Finally, Christophe Larrouilh, a partner and lawyer at the Paris Bar, spent 12 years in Angers, particularly in football as a lawyer for SCO Angers, before becoming a player agent and then a consultant. He then became a lawyer again in Thailand.
Christophe, why Thailand?
Christophe Larrouilh: In 2001, I left the Bar to create International Football Academies, including one in Thailand, where I finally settled as a player agent, then advised the local clubs on FIFA disputes.
Is football an activity for Vovan?
Christophe: At Vovan, I created the sports law department. We are now the lawyers of some of the biggest Thai clubs and plead cases before FIFA or CAS. My experience as a litigator led me to develop our litigation department (real estate, commercial …), so I take care of the sports law and litigation departments.
The francophone aspect is very strong in this cabinet. Is this an important axis for the development of the company?
Christophe: Yes, people come here because we are both French-speaking and specialized in French law, they feel more comfortable. Two thirds of our clientele is made up of Francophones, who come to us because there is not much choice and we are the only law firm composed exclusively of lawyers. If you want to divorce or face a dispute in France, we can take care of the files, sign the documents and plead the cases. We also have a firm in Paris, Vovan Paris, which can serve as a relay, we remain masters of our records and if really it is necessary, we move in person.
Among the specialties of Vovan is the family law…
Anne-Lise: For all questions concerning mixed marriage contracts, we analyze and think about the best protection for the client according to what he wants. On the Thai side, we can establish contracts like separation as of properties, accompany them to the Town Hall and then make the transcripts at the level of French law. Or we advise them to make a contract in France if the family goes there and their property is in France. In this case, we can also accompany them to establish this French prenuptial agreement, but always in collaboration with a notary installed in France.
We have more and more requests for advice. Clients tend to believe that one can get married under different schemes at the same time. To marry in Thailand and to transcribe your marriage in France does not mean that we are under a French regime. We are here to explain to our customers the implications of their choice.
Julalak: In terms of divorce, many foreign couples in Thailand think they cannot divorce here. We are here to assist and proceed the procedure via Thai juridiction. Once the Judgement is received, the transcription abroad then can be done.
So two French people can divorce in Thailand?
Anne-Lise: The principle is determined by the residence of the family, so normally the jurisdictions are here. But there are also internal rules on the causes of divorce and there are certain requirements of Thai law that must be found before you can go to court. If one does not fulfill the conditions, French law might be preferable. Because by applying the Brussels Regulation II Bis and the provisions of European law, we are able to direct the jurisdiction over French court. That is being considered as our way of thinking.
Julalak Phunsawat: The international family law is very strategic. Depending on the objective, it is used as best as possible to optimize the client’s situation.
Anne-Lise: In Thailand adultery is a cause of divorce opening that is detrimental. According to the one who committed adultery and who makes the request, we do not have the same speech at all. Who will have custody of the children, a compensatory allowance? But it is not only the financial stakes, especially when children come into play. Does the person want to return to France with his children, will there be a guard alternating or semi alternating? And when we are an “international couple” living in Thailand and separating, where will the children live and what about school? It is also very important.
And then there is everything about heritage too?
Julalak Phunsawat: It’s always based on international law, that’s why the strategy is very important from the beginning. When customers come to us, they often go wrong and we guide them in the right direction. This is one of our remarkable point and also the reason why the clients come via us.
Anne-Lise: The question always arises on the civil side as well. Was one allowed to make a will in Thailand and opt for the Thai law of residence?
We are resident where the family is established and where children go to school. The notion of residence from French side seems different basing on tax issues. As there is no tax treaty between Thailand and France for inheritance, this is a very sensitive point. But then there are the tax issues if we still have ties or real estate in Europe.
Christophe, you are also dealing with more and more litigation.
Yes, thanks to the Thai litigators we have in the cabinet, because as a foreigner we cannot plead directly. We also have Sébastien Bance, who spent four years at the Lille Bar and knows the litigation well. I myself spent 12 years as a litigator in France. We can also manage litigation files in France. There are some issues that are so important that you go to plead the case. The customer feels more secure and it’s more efficient.
Similarly, we did not touch the criminal before. Today we take these cases, because an expatriate can also be the victim of an offense, just as he can commit it. Recently, we had the victim of a murder. It happened a year ago and it has just been judged. Justice here is faster than in France…
Anne-Lise: In islands like Phuket, there are many road accidents and we have a lot of requests, because there are a lot of expenses incurred on the spot when we have to repatriate foreigners.
Christophe: Sometimes this is very serious prejudice, with permanent death or disability, and we are now making CIVI proceedings before the Commission for the Compensation of Crime Victims. It should be known that French law allows these French to be compensated before a special court in France. It is something new that is proposed to the customers. In France, each High Court has a CIVI.
Anne-Lise: The profile of expatriates has also changed. Before, they benefited from expatriate contracts, they came 3 years and go and did not really want to do their official documents here. They had their lawyer in France. Expats today are no longer necessarily sponsored by their company, they sometimes decide to stay with local contracts. Their perspective is no longer the same because they choose to live here. Retirees also want to know how to protect themselves, how to buy, how to make a will, if we also have to do it in France. They are sometimes advised to make a double will based on their properties’ situation..
A double will, does that mean a will in France and one in Thailand?
Anne-Lise: Yes, but as our clients do not only have property in France and Thailand, a will established here can be recognized in other neighboring countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. We are now more and more familiar with so-called international wills because we work together with lawyers from several Asian and European countries.
Julalak Phunsawat: The question of taxation is interesting, because when the French reside in Thailand the law of residence applies.
So, if you have properties in Europe or elsewhere, according to international law it is the Thai law that will be applied. However, depending on whether or not there are double taxation agreement between countries, taxe matter maybe uncertain.
Christophe: Then, the law is made a little more flexible. The latest Macron law on divorce allows divorce by contract without appearing in court. This makes life much easier for expatriates who are no longer required to go to France. You just have to agree to divorce by signing a contract here, that we can draft.
Anne-Lise: Since January 1, 2019, the French Embassy in Bangkok no longer receives notarized deeds. This is a service we offer at Vovan, since we have competence for. Maître Chakkrit, who has notary license, and me work in cooperation with the notaries in France and regularize authentic proxies and under private seal.
Our clients are no longer obliged to return to France to sign proxies to intervene on deeds of sale, succession, donation, etc. This is appropriate to them.