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Getting married in France

In France, only the civil ceremony is legally binding. However, it is still possible to have a religious ceremony in France after the civil ceremony. As such, all marriages must be performed by a French civil authority (at the French “Mairie” (City Hall)) before any religious ceremony takes place. The mayor can authorize the deputy mayor or a city councillor to perform the ceremony in the town in which one of the parties to be married has resided for at least 40 days preceding the marriage. These requirements cannot be waived.

The ceremony

With regard to the civil ceremony, it takes place at the mairie and applications for the marriage, known as the marriage banns, must be published at the mairie 10 days prior to the civil marriage. (Most mairies take approximately 4–6 weeks to process an application, so it is advised to meet with them in order to determine their exact documentary requirements). In the event of a mixed marriage, the publication of banns takes longer than the mandatory 10-day period above-mentioned as the duration depends on the country of origin of the foreign partner. The banns are published at the Town Hall of the French residence and at the Consulate of the country concerned.

The ceremony is performed by a French civil authority (maire, adjoint, or conseiller municipal). Two to four witnesses should be present. The witnesses must be chosen in advance and can be of any nationality, providing that they know enough French to understand the proceedings without a translator.

During the service, the French civil authority reads aloud sections of the French civil code enjoining the couple to be committed to each other and share an equal role throughout the marriage. The marriage ceremony will last about half an hour.

After the marriage, couples married receive a "livret de famille." This is a booklet which serves as an official record of marriage and subsequent events in the family such as births, deaths, divorce or name changes.

Documents required

All documentation must be original and in French (as such, any documentation that is not in French must be accompanied by official translations, ie translated by a Traducteur Assermenté). Usually, to get married, the basic documents listed below are required (However, please contact your local mairie for exact requirements).:-

  • A valid passport or a French resident permit;

  • A birth certificate (less than three months old);

  • A certificate of celibacy (less than three months old) which can be done by a Consular Officer in France;

  • An affidavit of Law (“Certificat de Coutume”): it is a statement (which must be done by an attorney licensed to practice in both France and the country where you come from) about marriage laws of the country of origin, certifying that you are free to contract marriage in France and will be recognized in your country;

  • A medical certificate (less than three months old);

  • Proof of domicile (copy of an utility bill);

  • A French notaire or a French lawyer’s certificate, if you opt for a prenuptial contract.


Mixed marriage

As mentioned above, in the event of a mixed marriage, the publication of banns takes longer than the mandatory 10-day period above-mentioned. As the duration depends on the country of origin of the foreign partner. The banns are published at the Town Hall of the French residence and at the Consulate of the country concerned.

The additional documents required are :

  • a certificate of freedom to marry ("certificat de coutume", available from the consulate of country concerned) ;
  • a birth certificate translated by a certified translator ;
  • a certificate of celibacy.

Furthermore, please note that a foreign spouse must wait two years after the wedding, before being legally entitled to a residence card. This two-year period is currently mandatory.

In addition, please note that:

  • the French spouse must be in possession of French nationality ;
  • cohabitation between spouses must not have ceased ;
  • in the case of a wedding celebrated in a foreign country, transcript of the ceremony on French civil registers must have been carried out.

Change of name

After marriage in France, the husband and wife keep their surname at birth, which should be used for all official acts.

It is however possible to add your new spouse's name to identity papers and other official documents, free of charge. However, only married women may change their name and substitute their husband's name.

Prenuptial agreements

A prenuptial agreement is a legal marriage contract entered into by a couple prior to the marriage or civil union and can change the set of marriage rules known as the marital regime. The marital regime establishes the rules that apply between the spouses, both during the marriage and afterwards, in the event of separation, divorce or death. Without a prenuptial agreement, a couple wall fall under the statutory regime known as communauté réduite aux acquêts (common ownership of property acquired during the marriage).

This statutory regime, designed for general cases, is not always suitable especially when spouses carry on an independent profession entailing financial risks. In this case, a more appropriate status is advisable (such as régime de separation de biens – separation of assets).

The contents of such prenuptial contract will depend on individual circumstances, but it is often used to agree the division of property, business assets and the custody of children should the couple divorce. It is also advisable between couples of different nationalities since the marriage laws can vary between countries as pertaining to such matters as divorce, division of assets, selling homes or businesses, giving gifts to children or settling an estate.

Please contact a French lawyer for more information.

© The French Law Office
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