Getting married in France
Getting legally married in France is only possible through a civil ceremony which takes place at the council offices (mairie). The couple can then follow this with a religious ceremony, a secular service, or whatever celebration they choose, in a destination of their choice.
The civil ceremony at the mairie must be in a commune (town or village) that you or your future spouse is linked to: where one or both of you live, or (since 2013) where one of your parents live. Most mairies are so small they only have one receptionist (and many have quirky opening hours as a result) so simply saying you want to get married is enough to start procedures. In larger towns, you can ask for the office des mariages (office of marriages) although this may cause some confusion if they don't have a separate department.
You must apply together to the mairie in question, and prove that you are are both free to wed. This may include a face-to-face interview, either together or separately. The mairie will then publish the bans for a fixed period. This is a formality where your intent to marry is publically announced, to allow anyone with knowledge of a legal impediment (eg. an existing marriage) time to notify the registrar.
This process typically takes at least four weeks, longer if one or both of you are not French. You may have a limited choice as to which day you can get married. Be prepared to be flexible.
You must be over 18 and not already married to get married.
Destination French weddings for foreigners
Many people come to France to get married. However, the paperwork to arrange a civil wedding while out of the country is complex. Non-residents who do not have a parent living in France require a special dispensation to get married in the country, and this is very rarely granted. Many couples prefer to have the civil wedding in their country of origin or residence, and hold a second, religious or secular, ceremony in France.
Conversely, couples who are residents in France may find it easier to hold the civil ceremony in France, and then celebrate with family and friends abroad.
Documentation to get married in France
Expect to have to provide:
- ID (eg. passport);
- birth certificate – this must be less than three months old if issued in France, less than six months old if issued elsewhere, and if from abroad, it may need to be 'legalised' so it's recognised in France, for example, the affixation of an Apostille stamp;
- proof of address (eg. rental agreement, recent bills);
- proof of nationality;
- proof of civil status – typically, you will request a Certificat de Capacité Matrimoniale from your embassy, but expect to provide a divorce or death certificate too, if you have been married previously;
- notary's certificate (only required with a prenuptual agreement);
- family record book (livret de famille) (typically only if you already have a child born in France);
- information about your two – four witnesses.
As of 2013, medical certificates are no longer required.
If you are not French, you may require a Certificat de Coutume from your embassy. This ensures that your marriage will be equally valid in France and in your home country.
A notarised translation is typically required for any documents not in French. Foreign documents may have to be authorised with an Apostille stamp or equivalent, also known as 'Apostillisation' or 'legalisation'. The issuing authority stamps a document with an unique ID, indicating that it is a true and accurate copy to be recognised internationally.
Wedding ceremonies in France
The ceremony must take place at the mairie, in a room open to the public, no less than 10 days and no more than one year after authorisation is granted. If you wait more than three months, you may have to supply new copies of your birth certificates. The mayor (maire) or their representative will preside over the ceremony.
The ceremony will be in French. If either of you are not fluent in the language, it is strongly advised that you have a translator present. They do not usually need to be a professional or certified translator.
The default is that property acquired during the marriage is held in common (régime légal de communauté réduite aux acquêts) while property acquired outside the marriage is not. Additionally, without a will, the surviving spouse will retain half of the communal property, and inherit a proportion of the other half, shared with any children.
In France, a prenuptual agreement (contrat de mariage) is only valid if it is arranged before the wedding. You must present a certificate from a public notary who has witnessed the contract when you apply to the mairie.
A prenuptual agreement is used to alter the standard form of inheritance, joint ownership of property and mutual responsibility within the confines laid down by French law. It is common where there are children from previous relationships, other dependants, where one or both spouses own a business, or where there is significant wealth. Consult a legal professional for advice on your particular situation.
De facto agreements
Unmarried couples (same-sex or heterosexual) may create a Pacs (pacte civil de solidarité), a legally binding document that arranges certain aspects of their life. This is not an impediment to marriage, nor is it a prenuptual agreement. It is dissolved by marriage.
Proof of marriage
After the ceremony, you will be presented with a family record document (livret de famille) unless you already have one. This is an ongoing record of all elements relating to the marriage (births, adoptions, deaths, divorce, etc.) and includes a copy of your marriage certificate (l'acte de mariage). If you require a separate or additional copy of the certificate, you must request this separately.
Marrying a French citizen does not automatically grant you French citizenship. There is currently a mandatory two-year wait before a residence card is granted to a non-French spouse, unless they already have one.
By default, both spouses keep their own name. Each may add the other's name to theirs at this time for no charge, or a woman may replace her name with her husband's. Either or both may go through the process to legally change their name.
Citizens of 11 countries (Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Kosovo, Laos, Morocco, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia and Tunisia) cannot enter into a same-sex marriage in France. This is apparently due to pre-existing treaties which mean that citizens of these countries must abide by certain of their own laws while in France. At the time of writing, in 2014, various challenges were under way but success is not in sight.