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Wedding bells: What you need to know about getting married in France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Wedding bells: What you need to know about getting married in France
(Photo by Christophe PETIT TESSON / POOL / AFP)

With its beautiful chateaux, great food and wine and general romantic vibe France is a popular location for weddings - but whether you live here or just want to get married here, there are some important things to know before you tie the knot.

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To legally marry in France you must be:

  • A minimum age of 18 years old (in very rare cases people under-18 may marry, but they need the signed consent of at least one parent and an age exemption granted by the public prosecutor);
  • The future couple must not be closely related.

Note: if you are a foreign citizen who wants to marry in France, you must also be able to legally marry in your own country.

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage has been legal in France since 2013, however there is an important caveat for foreigners in France - if your home country does not recognise same-sex marriage you may not be able to marry in France, subject to any bilateral treaty between France and your home country - full details here.

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If you can marry in France, it is possible that your home country will not recognise your marriage, which could have legal implications if you return to your home country. 

PACS

The alternative to marriage in France is entering into a Pacte civil de solidarité, informally known as pacsé. This gives you many of the same rights as married couples, but not entirely.

Marriage v PACS - what are the differences?

If you live in France

France is a secular country. That means only civil marriages are legally recognised. There’s nothing to stop you from having a religious ceremony, but you have to also do the civil bit, at the mairie.

You can do the religious wedding at any time after the civil ceremony.

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

DocumentsIn order to marry in France, if you live in the country, you will need: 

  • Proof of residency in the commune in which you plan to marry for at least 30 days prior to the application of at least one member of the couple. A second home is usually enough to prove the ‘close links’ required, or you can marry in the commune that the parents of one of the couple live in
  • Valid passports;
  • Original birth certificates (less than 3 months old) - overseas ones will need translating;
  • A certificate of non-impediment to marriage. This is available from local authorities;
  • Divorce or death certificate for anyone marrying a second time;
  • Affidavit stating that you are free to marry and that the marriage will be recognised in your home country.

Since this is France, you must obviously create a dossier of all these documents and submit it to the mairie where you wish to marry.

Having checked your documents, the officier d'état civil (registrar) then invites the couple for an interview - this is compulsory. The interview is usually conducted together, but the registrar can also request individual interviews (normally in a case where they suspect forced marriage or a sham marriage). 

The interview is usually conducted in French but if one or both of the couple do not speak French the registrar can request a translator - if you're worried about doing the interview in French it can a good idea to flag up in advance that you will need a translator. 

There are some exceptions to the requirements for an interview; if it is impossible due to circumstances (eg a serious illness) or if the registrar does not judge it necessary. If one member of the couple lives abroad, the interview can be done at the consulate. 

Next steps - Once your dossier is approved, the next step is to publish the bans - an announcement published by the mairie with your name, address, jobs and intention to marry.

The wedding cannot take place until at least 10 days after the bans are published, but must take place within one year.

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Wedding - The wedding must take place in a public building within the commune - this is usually the mairie but can be other venues like a village hall or meeting room.

You will be married by either the mayor or deputy mayor of your commune, who will don their ceremonial tricolour sash for the occasion.

The ceremony must be in French, but it's fine to have an interpreter present, or if the mayor speaks English they may agree to translate for you. 

The mairie wedding is compulsory to make your wedding legally binding, but how big a deal of it you make is entirely up to you. Plenty of French couples have only the mairie wedding so you'll see big parties, brides in big white dresses, confetti throwing etc all going on at the mairie.

On the other hand if you want to keep the civil ceremony small and then have a religious wedding with all the trappings, then that is fine too. 

A fun French tradition involves the wedding party moving off from the mairie together in a convoy of decorated cars, all beeping their horns to celebrate the marriage.

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Witnesses - You also need to provide between two and four people to be witnesses to the marriage - they must be over 18, but otherwise there are no conditions and they are not required to live in France.

You declare the names of your witnesses when you fill in your pre-marriage paperwork, so you can't just grab a couple of random people off the street. 

Divorce - we hate to break the romantic mood, but before getting married it's important that foreigners understand the very different rules in France around the division of assets in the case of a divorce, and make pre-marriage agreements if applicable. Full details HERE.

If you live outside France

If neither member of the couple is a French citizen and neither live in France, you may not be able to have the legal bit of the wedding here.

There are a couple of exceptions to this; if you own a home and France and spend plenty of time there that may be enough to prove 'close links' to the commune; if the parents of either member of the couple live in France; or if you are in one of France's overseas territories - full details here

If you don't fulfil any of those criteria then you cannot have the mairie wedding in France.

There is, however, nothing to stop you having a religious ceremony or other ceremony in France - complete with friends, family, fancy food and drink, hats etc - and then registering the marriage with the civil authorities in your home country when you get home. 

Many French chateaux do a booming trade in weddings for foreigners, providing a fairytale setting and all the trimmings for your special day, although they usually don't come cheap. 

Any responsible business owner should make it clear when you book that this ceremony has no legal standing.

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