Adieu Already? France's First Couple Divorces

Splitsville: Nicolas and C¿cilia Sarkozy's breakup came as a surprise.
Splitsville: Nicolas and C¿cilia Sarkozy's breakup came as a surprise. (By Laurent Baheux -- Associated Press)
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 19, 2007

PARIS, Oct. 18 -- Cécilia Sarkozy, who didn't bother voting for her husband, Nicolas, when he ran for president of France in May, finally voted this week with her feet.

A terse 15-word statement from the Elysee Palace on Thursday said that the couple -- long rumored to be on the verge of a breakup -- had divorced "by mutual consent."

The announcement rocked the country, first because no French president has ever gotten divorced while in office, and second because it was not immediately clear how the most powerful man in France could have secured a divorce so quickly and without anyone finding out about it. Unless of course it had something to do with him being the most powerful man in France.

French newspaper Web sites reported on Thursday that a judge in the Paris suburb of Nanterre had approved the Sarkozys' divorce on Monday, ending their love affair of more than 20 years, 11 of them as husband and wife.

Confirmation of the split followed months of rumors that a separation was imminent and weeks of official evasion by presidential spokesmen, who refused to confirm any details of matrimonial disharmony. Many French newspapers have been accused of hushing up the matter until the Elysee Palace announced it.

France's Liberation newspaper ran a full front-page picture of Cécilia on Thursday with the English headline: "Desperate housewife."

"It's our biggest soap, our biggest psychoanalytic gossip piece," said French political analyst Nicole Bacharan. "This breakup -- it's unthinkable."

"There is a fascination with this couple and this man, who is so strong and has so much authority and power and won't accept anything from anyone except from this one woman," Bacharan said. "And she turns down the biggest honor and says no, I'd rather be free, and that's emblematic of the changing status of women" and changes in French family values.

An attorney representing the couple, Michéle Cahen, told Europe 1 radio that they had seen a judge to hammer out financial terms and finalize their divorce. "There was no problem. They resolved everything amicably," he said.

The couple apparently took advantage of a French law that allows quick divorces by mutual consent, and which consequently does not require public legal proceedings, political analysts said.

The presidential statement said neither would comment further on the matter.

The official breakup followed months of apparent discord. One of the earliest signs of serious trouble was this summer when Sarkozy, during a family vacation in New Hampshire, went stag to a picnic lunch hosted by President Bush at his father's home in Kennebunkport. Cécilia simply didn't show up, reportedly because she was sick. But she was spotted out shopping with her daughters the next day.

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