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What you need to know about PACS v marriage in France

Evie Burrows-Taylor
Evie Burrows-Taylor - [email protected]
What you need to know about PACS v marriage in France
A wedding ceremony in Bergheim, eastern France. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The institution of PACS (a civil partnership) is more than 20 years old and thousands couples in France have registered for one. But what is a PACS and how is it different from getting married?

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Whether you choose to enter a PACS (pacte civil de solidarité or 'civil union') or get married in France, it's best to first find out what each scenario would mean for you and your partner.

The PACS was introduced to France back in 1999 as a way of giving same-sex couples similar rights and benefits to those given to married couples. 

Of course, since 2013 same-sex couple have been able to marry in France but that hasn't stopped many couples - same-sex and heterosexual - opting for the civil union instead.

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It's become such an accepted part of the landscape that its acronym has become a word - pacsé, meaning people who have entered a civil union - ils sont pacsé = they are in a civil partnership.

But each system has advantages and disadvantages. 

Here's what you need to know. 

The basics

  • You can get out of a PACS union more easily than a marriage. Divorcing in France can be a lengthy, complicated and expensive process involving lawyers but if you are pacsé all you need to do is send an official letter off to your local court to inform them of your decision. 
  • If you are pacsé you don't have the same inheritance or adoption rights (more on that below). 
  • You can declare joint taxes, receive the tax benefits of being in a couple, transfer rental contracts between partners, and employers must take PACS into account for time off work for births, deaths, and holidays.
  • The usual rules for being married, such as not already being married to someone else, not being related, and being of sound age and mind, also apply to the PACS.
  • Immigration rules are different for some statuses between married and pacsé couples, for example a spouse visa can only be granted to someone who is married to a French or EU national
  • After becoming either pacsé or married you have to have a single address for official purposes.

Adoption rights

In France, only married couples can jointly adopt a child. 

That means that if you are pacsé and would like to adopt, you only have access to individual adoption which means only one of you would officially be the child's parent. 

In fact, adoption isn't all that easy for couples who are married, with the rules stipulating that a couple must have been married for more than two years or over the age of 28 before they apply. 

Health Insurance

In terms of social protection, and particularly health insurance, pacsé couples are considered to be the same as married couples.

Pensions

On the other hand, your partner would not be entitled to your pension in the event of your death if you are pacsé rather than married, even if you have children together. 

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Meanwhile a spouse or divorced former spouse is entitled, on a means-tested basis, to a portion of the deceased's pension.

Taxes 

When it comes to both income tax and wealth tax pacsé couples are treated the same way as married couples. 

READ ALSO Does it make financial sense to get married in France?

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Inheritance

One of the biggest differences between a PACS union and a marriage in France is that if you are married, even in the absence of a will, the surviving spouse is automatically entitled to a share of the deceased's inheritance.

On top of that, the surviving spouse has the automatic right to continue living in the family home. 

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However for the surviving person in a pacsé union there is no automatic right to any of the above. Instead you would have to have written a will stipulating those conditions if that is what you would like to happen. 

That means that if you are pacsé then the surviving partner is not as protected as they would be if you were married however you can easily get around this by writing a will. 

READ ALSO How inheritance laws and taxes work in France 

If you are not living in France, you may not be able to be either legally married or pacsé here - full details here.

Immigration

After a final ruling by the Conseil d'Etat in 2018, it was decided that a French spouse visa can only be given to married couples, not those who are pacsé.

READ ALSO Ask the expert: What does French immigration law say about pacsé couples?

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