In France a civil ceremony is the legally binding ceremony. When there is a religious ceremony in France it follows the civil ceremony either immediately or a few days after.
Foreign nationals getting married in France
The civil ceremony takes place in the town in which one of the parties to be married has resided for at least 40 consecutive days immediately preceding the marriage. In certain circumstances, such as the couple living in different towns or moving to another town, they can make a marriage application to the Mairie of the other town.
The civil ceremony will be conducted in French and all legal documents including the marriage certificate will be issued in French. For those wanting the ceremony translated into English, the maire can advise on making the necessary arrangements.
The civil ceremony
The civil ceremony takes place at the mairie and applications for the marriage, otherwise known as the marriage banns, must be published at the mairie 10 days prior to the civil marriage. (The mairie will provide an explanatory written guide of the documents required). Most mairies take approximately 4–6 weeks to process an application. It is advised to meet with them in order to determine their exact documentary requirements (documents may need to be issued 3 months prior to the date of marriage or publication of banns).
The ceremony is performed by a French civil authority (maire, adjoint, or conseiller municipal). At least two and at most four witnesses should be present.
The witnesses must be chosen in advance and can be of any nationality, providing that they know enough French to understand the proceedings without a translator. They will also need to provide proof of identification. These factors are very important.
During the service, the maire reads aloud sections of the civil code enjoining the couple to be committed to each other and share an equal role throughout the marriage.
Guests can attend the ceremony but how many depends on the facilities of the mairie. The marriage ceremony will last about half an hour.
After the ceremony confetti can be thrown over the bride and groom and photographs taken outside.
The wedding party can then proceed to a reception, perhaps at a hotel or alternative venue.
A marriage certificate (livret de famille) will be issued after the ceremony. This is an official document to be used for all future family events, such as births, deaths, divorce or name changes.
If you would like to obtain further copies of the marriage certificate you will need to write to the mairie where the marriage took place (state the date and place of your marriage, plus your full names, including maiden name).
All documentation must be original. Any documentation that is not in French must be accompanied by official translations translated by a Traducteur Assermenté. The following documents are usually required:
- Valid passport or Carte de Séjour
- Birth certificate
- Justificatifs de Domicile – Proof of address (this can be a utility bill, rent / mortgage document, etc.)
- Certificat de Célibat – This is a certificate to state that the couple are not already married. As this certificate does not exist under British law, British couples would need to obtain an official attestation. Forms can be downloaded from the British Embassy in Paris website.
- Certificat de Coutume – This is a certificate issued by British Embassy in Paris and couples need to apply for it either to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London or the Embassy, depending whether they live in the UK or in France.The Certificate de Coutume certifies that the couple are both free to marry in France, and that the marriage will be recognised in their country of residence.For most countries, the appropriate consulate in France will be able to help with issuing these documents. British citizens can contact the Foreign Commonwealth Office for further details.
- Contrat de Mariage – Prenuptial agreement
For those planning to have a prenuptial agreement this must be presented to the mairie.
- Evidence must be provided if either the bride or groom has been divorced or widowed. An Acte de marriage (copy of the final divorce decree) is needed for divorcees, while an Act de décès for widowers.Prenuptial agreementsA prenuptial agreement is a legal marriage contract entered into by a couple prior to the marriage or civil union and can change the set of marriage rules known as the marital regime. The marital regime establishes the rules that apply between the spouses, both during the marriage and afterwards, in the event of separation, divorce or death. Without a prenuptial agreement, a couple wall fall under the statutory regime known as communauté d’acquêts (common ownership of property acquired during the marriage); however, it is not suitable for everyone.Notaires de France outline the benefits of drawing up a marriage contract: “[The statutory] regime, designed for general cases, has certain limitations when a particular situation arises in relation to family matters or assets. This is especially true when spouses carry on an independent profession entailing financial risks. In this case, a more appropriate status is advisable.”The contents of the contract will depend on individual circumstances, but it is often used to agree the division of property, business assets and the custody of children should the couple divorce. It is also advisable between couples of different nationalities since the marriage laws can vary between countries as pertaining to such matters as divorce, division of assets, selling homes or businesses, giving gifts to children or settling an estate.Notaires are the only professionals authorised to prepare prenuptial agreements. They can explain the options and draw up a customised marital regime.Other types of ceremonyReligious ceremony
In France a religious ceremony is not legally binding and therefore must take place after the civil ceremony. The couple can either have a religious ceremony the same day as their civil ceremony, or at a later date. The mairie will issue a special document to give to the priest conducting the religious ceremony, to confirm that the civil ceremony has taken place.
Some couples may choose to get legally married in their home country and have a religious ceremony in France.
Although same-sex marriage is still illegal in France, gay couples can enter into a civil partnership known as a PACS (Pacte Civil de Solidarité).
A PACS is seen as a contract between two individuals. Although the rules governing the duties and obligations of husband and wife are applicable to PACS partners, such as communal life, reciprocal assistance and material aid, tax and legal rights are not the same as for married couples.
In France, heterosexual couples can also enter into a PACS and now around 90% (135,000 out of 150,000 PACS per year) are being entered into by heterosexual couples. This is in contrast to the UK, where only same-sex couples may enter a civil partnership and it is seen virtually as same-sex marriage. Find out more.
A very popular type of blessing is a Humanist wedding ceremony. The advantage of this type of ceremony is that it can be in any location, taking advantage of the many beautiful settings that France has to offer.