I am very sorry about your situation and hope that my answer will help. I will try to make it as clearly organized as possible for your benefit.
1. Where would you divorce: it is possible to divorce in France, at the Tribunal de Grande Instance where you have your common residence (the house you live in). The applicable rules are Art. 3(1)(a) of Regulation 2201/2003 and Art. 1070 French Code of Civil Procedure.
2. What law applies: French law applies, according to Art. 8(a) of Regulation 1259/2010.
3. Do you need a lawyer: absolutely. It is compulsory according to the French Civil Procedure Code. It is also very useful because of issues regarding your 'matrimonial property regime'.
4. What is the matrimonial property regime: this is the set of rules which regulates who actually owns goods bought together. This law can be, in your case, French or English law, depending on whether you have lived in France together for more than (-> French law) or less than (-> English law) 10 years. In practice, the law preferable to you is English, if the house has been bought by your husband before marriage. If the house was acquired during marriage, there's no difference.
5. Who gets what: any property bought before marriage, as well as property inherited at any time, is personal property, and normally the spouse who purchased it is entitled to remain with it. However, in cases of fault on the part of one spouse, English law says the court may re-allocate property, even personal property. This clause is well-know by English courts, less so by French ones. You would have to get a very good local attorney specialized in 'private international law', if you feel you need to benefit from this provision.
Any property bought during marriage is common property. With minor differences between English and French law, it is split between the spouses equally regardless of who contributed to it more (i.e. even if your husband bought it with his money, with the exception of the case where he can prove it was bought with inherited money). As a co-owner, you may ask the court to maintain you in the property, to purchase him out, or to sell the house and get the half price.
Even in case the house is his alone, French law (which for this provision applies with priority, being part of the 'essential matrimonial regime') provides that you may apply to the court to remain in the house with a nominal rent, up to the age of majority of your youngest child!
Furthermore, in case of abuse or violence, he can be forbidden to come close to you, even before the dissolution of marriage, through a protection order.
Finally (but only if he is in fault and this is proven in court), you are entitled to maintenance, for yourself and the children, as the economically disadvantaged party.
All in all, please do not be afraid to take this step, but I cannot emphasize enough that it is essential to get an attorney, for the following reasons (among others):
-> in France, there is a compulsory conciliation proceeding before divorce, which means you will be faced with him in a formal setting. It is always good to have a supporting person to your defense in such a setting;
-> as an international couple, he will most likely try to invoke various rules to his advantage, rules and EU regulations which are not well understood by the courts. Having a good attorney which will submit the points I have made above is very important.
I hope my answer was useful and look forward to your rating, which is essential to my activity.
Dr I L Vlad