With fab­u­lous food, wine and venues, France is the per­fect place to tie the knot. Kate McNally ex­plains what you need to know to get mar­ried the French way

Living France - - Contents -

Our guide to ty­ing the knot the French way, from the pa­per­work to the party

There may be sev­eral rea­sons for de­cid­ing to marry in France. Per­haps you al­ready live in France, or are ty­ing the knot with a French na­tional, or have sim­ply al­ways dreamed of an al­fresco wed­ding in a sun-drenched olive grove or vine­yard be­ing ser­e­naded by Charles Az­navour. What­ever the rea­son, or the dream, you will no doubt have une journée fab­uleuse to re­mem­ber, as the French have a cer­tain panache for the big oc­ca­sion. That said, as with weddings the world over, there’s a lot of work to be done – and do­ing it in a for­eign coun­try, es­pe­cially one that likes all the Ts and all the Is neatly crossed and dot­ted, can be ex­tra de­mand­ing. So, hold on tight to your tiara, and re­mem­ber it will be all right on the night!


Per­haps the first thing to say about the le­gal as­pects of get­ting mar­ried in France is that you ei­ther do them or you don’t – in France, that is. It may be sim­pler to do the le­gal part in the UK, and just have the ex­trav­a­gant wed­ding cer­e­mony in France. As in the UK, a re­li­gious wed­ding is not of­fi­cial in the eyes of the state, and French churches will re­quire proof that you are legally mar­ried in a civil union (ei­ther in France or in an­other coun­try) be­fore con­sent­ing to marry you in the eyes of the Lord.

How­ever should you choose to hold the civil cer­e­mony also in France, ei­ther as your main wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion, or ahead of a re­li­gious or non-re­li­gious cer­e­mony, your first port of call, as so of­ten in France, is the lo­cal mairie of the town or vil­lage where you wish to be mar­ried. They will give you a dossier set­ting out what pa­per­work you will need to pro­vide, the bones of which are the fol­low­ing: Proof of res­i­dence – at least one of the en­gaged couple must have lived for a min­i­mum of 30 days in the lo­cal com­mu­nity be­fore a mar­riage ap­pli­ca­tion can be granted by the mairie. There­after, the banns are posted out­side the mairie and from then it will take a min­i­mum of 10 days be­fore the wed­ding can take place. So, if you don’t al­ready live in France, this means stay­ing put in the wed­ding des­ti­na­tion for at least 40 days prior to the big day, and very likely a lit­tle longer. In gen­eral, one or two util­ity bills in your name are re­quired as proof of res­i­dence. For brides- or grooms-to-be who have par­ents res­i­dent in the com­mu­nity, this counts de facto as res­i­dency, thereby sim­pli­fy­ing pro­ceed­ings some­what. Proof of iden­tity – usu­ally your pass­port. Acte de nais­sance – these must be orig­i­nal birth cer­tifi­cates (not copies) ob­tained from the reg­istry of­fice of your place of birth within three months of the wed­ding date for a French birth cer­tifi­cate, or within six months for a for­eign cer­tifi­cate. Wit­ness in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing name, ad­dress, date and place of birth, pro­fes­sion and proof of iden­tity. Con­trat de mariage (prenup­tial agree­ment) – should you opt for a prenup­tial agree­ment, the date of the le­gal con­tract should be no longer than two months be­fore the wed­ding date. If you don’t have a prenup, it is worth know­ing that the de­fault le­gal sit­u­a­tion in France is that you are mar­ried un­der the regime ‘ com­mu­nauté ré­duite aux ac­quêts’. This stip­u­lates that each party is sole owner of any pos­ses­sions ac­quired be­fore the mar­riage and of any in­her­i­tance re­ceived be­fore or dur­ing their mar­riage, while earn­ings and ac­qui­si­tions made as a mar­ried couple are owned equally by both par­ties.

The mairie might also ask for… Cer­ti­fi­cat de cou­tume (cer­tifi­cate of cus­tom, also known as the cer­tifi­cate of no im­ped­i­ment) – this is a le­gal af­fi­davit of mar­i­tal sta­tus con­firm­ing that both par­ties are free to marry and that the mar­riage will be law­ful in France and your home coun­try. You need to ap­ply to the Bri­tish Em­bassy for this cer­tifi­cate – an ap­pli­ca­tion form can be down­loaded from the web­site. It costs £50 (or €61). Cer­ti­fi­cat de céli­bat (cer­tifi­cate of celibacy) – this doc­u­ment does not ex­ist in Bri­tish law, so you will need to pro­vide an of­fi­cial ex­plana­tory note con­firm­ing your sin­gle sta­tus. You can down­load the ex­plana­tory note from the web­site ( see link over­leaf). Death cer­tifi­cate or di­vorce de­cree nisi – if ei­ther party has been pre­vi­ously mar­ried, pa­pers prov­ing that you are ei­ther wid­owed or di­vorced may be re­quested.

If any of these of­fi­cial doc­u­ments are in English, they must be sub­mit­ted in orig­i­nal form with trans­la­tions in French by a trans­la­tor reg­is­tered with the French state and au­then­ti­cated with an Apos­tille stamp. The doc­u­ments won’t be ac­cepted with­out these legally cer­ti­fied trans­la­tions, which means fac­tor­ing in a lit­tle ex­tra ex­pense when pre­par­ing the wed­ding bud­get.

As in the UK, the lo­cal mayor, or a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the mairie, car­ry­ing out the civil cer­e­mony will also re­quest a hear­ing with the en­gaged couple prior to the ser­vice to check ev­ery­thing is in or­der. They may ask that a trans­la­tor or in­ter­preter is present if there are con­cerns that one or both of you does not un­der­stand French suf­fi­ciently.

A few days af­ter your mar­riage, the mairie will have your mar­riage cer­tifi­cate ( acte de mariage) ready for col­lec­tion. You will also be given a livret de famille – a sa­cred fam­ily book in France that in­cludes an ex­tract of the mar­riage li­cence as well as the regis­tra­tion of the birth of any chil­dren.

Should you choose to hold the civil cer­e­mony in France, your first port of call is the mairie


For the civil cer­e­mony, you may be re­quired to have a trans­la­tor

If you don’t live in France, or don’t have a work­ing knowl­edge of the French lan­guage, then you would be well ad­vised to ap­point a French-speak­ing wed­ding plan­ner. Most ho­tels or coun­try houses in France that cater for weddings are likely to have a bilin­gual wed­ding plan­ner in situ or English-speak­ing staff ca­pa­ble of or­gan­is­ing a wed­ding. How­ever, if your cel­e­bra­tions are tak­ing place at the lo­cal salle des fêtes or in the gar­den of fam­ily or friends, with cater­ing and en­ter­tain­ment brought in, then it’s less likely that you will be deal­ing with French providers who can speak English.

And just be­cause you want to get mar­ried in France, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that you want a to­tally French wed­ding. You may want the tra­di­tional English three-tier wed­ding cake, for ex­am­ple, or you may want to dance the night away to the Spice Girls and Cold­play, rather than French songs you’ve never heard of. With­out the help of a will­ing French- speak­ing in­ter­me­di­ary, it might prove dif­fi­cult to ed­u­cate a French pâtissier in the de­lights of iced fruit cake or to find a lo­cal DJ that can un­der­stand, let alone source, your playlist! It can (and of­ten has) been done, how­ever. You just need to be aware of the po­ten­tial com­pli­ca­tions and be re­source­ful – and pos­si­bly, at times, in­sis­tent.

So, as with any wed­ding, there will be a lot of hard work be­fore you ar­rive at the big day, but when you share the oc­ca­sion with friends and fam­ily in France, you will all be mak­ing a French con­nec­tion for life. À la vôtre!

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