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How to avoid any French wedding nightmares

Sophie Inge · 23 Apr 2014, 10:52

Published: 22 Apr 2014 10:52 GMT+02:00
Updated: 23 Apr 2014 10:52 GMT+02:00

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Among the foreign couples who plan to tie the knot in France this year are the actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt plus hip hop star Kanye West and socialite Kim Kardashian.

In fact, both couples are reportedly set to wed on the same day – May 24th.

So what is it about France as a wedding venue that’s so attractive to foreigners?

Monica Delevaux an American wedding planner with French based Haute Wedding has helped dozens of international couples plan their perfect day in la belle France.

“Nowadays, people are a lot more spread out and often have jobs which take them across the four corners of the world. In this respect, France is very central and easily accessible,” Delevaux tells The Local.

“For example, I might have an American client living in Dubai but with a mother living in the UK.”

'You can't go wrong with a French wedding'

But she doesn’t discount the other pluses.

“You just can’t go wrong in France with the lifestyle, the cultural richness of the history, the food, the wine and the natural beauty,” she admits.

Aren’t the like of Pitt and Jolie put off by the prospect of French paperwork? Or the fact that you need to be a resident to have a legal ceremony in France?

According to Delevaux, what foreigners normally do is have a legal low-key ceremony back home with their parents and a few witnesses.

“They sign the paperwork, go for lunch and call it a day,’ she says. “Then they have a religious or symbolic ceremony here in France where they exchange the vows and the rings.

“It’s just like a traditional wedding but not legally binding. The fact that the wedding is not actually legal is irrelevant, and frankly, the guests are normally unaware.

“What people appreciate is the emotion and the beauty of the ceremony and the couples’ promises to each other. It’s not about legalities.”

Patience is a must

Another problem that foreigners, especially Americans, encounter when planning their French wedding is a typically slow response time to emails sent to the caterers, the DJ, the florists and so on.

“You need to be very patient,” says Delevaux. “In the US, people are used to getting a response right away. Expats in France may sometimes have to wait up to five days for a response.

“Just follow-up with a gentle nudge,” she advises. Or, better still, get a native French person to do it for you.

If you are resident in France and want a “legal” wedding, then there’s even more to consider.

Before any religious ceremonies can be performed, marriages must be take place at a local town hall or mairie as it is in French.

Just get in touch with the mairie and they will provide you with a list of documents they require (this is often referred to as a ‘dossier’).

Normally, you’ll need your passport, a full birth certificate with your parents’ details, and proof of residence (this could be a utility bill, pay slip etc). Although you'll need to bear in mind that you have to have been resident in the town for at least 40 days before the ceremony.

If you are divorced, then you will need to provide your decree absolute or equivalent, depending on the country where you got divorced.

If you require a pre-nuptial contract, then it’s worth contacting a public notary (notaire) for advice.

If you are widowed, then the mairie will require your previous spouse’s death certificate. You will also need a certificate of custom and certificate of celibacy – both of which can be obtained from your country’s embassy.

'Give yourself several months so you don't get stressed'

The Certificate of Custom can take between five to seven days to issue.

Story continues below…

Don’t forget that English documents may need to be translated into French by a sworn translator (traducteur assermenté). Normally, your town hall or local court should be able to supply a list of translators.

American expat and resident in France Meighan McFalls, who’s lived in the country for five years, is currently planning her own wedding, which will take place in September.

“Make sure you give yourself enough time to plan,” McFalls, who is engaged to a Frenchman, tells The Local. “Wedding planning already takes a significant amount of time, and as an expat you will have additional paperwork to do and cultural differences to deal with on top of that. Try to give yourself at least several months so that you don’t get stressed.”

“So far, the most challenging part of the process has been finding a date that more or less suits everyone: myself and my fiancé, my family in the US and his family in France.”

Even so, she warns: “Remember that certain family members or friends from home may not be able to come to the wedding – perhaps due to financial reasons or scheduling constraints.”

In her case, most of her family and close friends are coming – and she’s already arranged for them to stay with her future in-laws and in local hotels. 

No doubt this will be an even bigger problem for Pitt-Jolie, Kardashian-West who are expected to invite a legion of high-profile guests expected at their celeb weddings in May.

This might be a good time to put your flat on Airbnb.

Have you got married in France? What was your experience like? We would like to hear from you.

Sophie Inge (sophie.inge@thelocal.com)

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