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LIVING IN FRANCE

What you need to know about PACS v marriage in France

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?

Wedding and PACS venue, France
The sign of the Mirepoix's city hall, bearing figurines representing a just married couple, hung above the entrance of the city hall. (Photo by PASCAL PAVANI / AFP)

Whether you choose to enter a PACS (pacte civil de solidarité or ‘civil union’) or go the whole hog and 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.

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.

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 PACS 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.
  • Most residency rights, such as being able to apply for a spouse visa, apply to both married and pacsé couples
  • 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. 

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?

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. 

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 

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For members

FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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