GUIDE TO GETTING MARRIED IN FRANCE
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
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 gov.uk 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 gov.uk 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!