You may be already planning your perfect French wedding or thinking about a civil relationship. This article will help you grasp the difference and begin planning the paperwork and ceremony.

We are frequently told that Paris is the city of love. However, France has many beautiful settings, countryside, and châteaux so practically anywhere in the country might be your dream wedding site. However, the only venue in France where you can legally get married is in your local town hall by a public worker. Beyond that, many couples select humanist or religious festivities and ceremonies to celebrate with loved ones. French marriages share many traditions with those of other Western countries. France also has several distinctive rituals.

An Overview Of Marriage In France

In France, couples who live together have numerous options, including marriage, civil partnership (Pacs), or cohabitation (concubinage or union libre). Cohabitation includes no rights or obligations, and each person files their taxes independently. Laws governing civil partnerships have gradually been aligning to mirror the privileges and obligations of marriage contracts. However, there are a few significant variances.

France has a low marriage rate (PDF) of 3.5 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to the EU and OECD averages of 4.6 and 4.8, respectively. People who marry do so later in life. In 2019, the average age of marriage for men was 38.6 years and 36.1 years for women. However, 18% of couples marrying have already been divorced. There is little stigma associated with this outside of exclusively Catholic French areas.

In 2019, there were 227,000 French weddings, with 6,000 being between people of the same gender. In comparison, over 209,000 civil partnerships, or Pacs, were formed in 2018. Again, a minority of them (8,600) were same-sex partners. Among young adults in the 20-34 age bracket, it is more usual for couples to cohabit than to be married or stay in a civil partnership. This represents a trend more prevalent in northern European countries than in southern or eastern EU countries.

French Attitudes Towards Marriage

Marriage is declining in popularity in France. This may reflect worldwide trends, as, throughout OECD countries, marriage rates have declined by roughly half since 1970. Fewer people marry, and those who marry do so later in life. In France nowadays, more than 60% of children are born outside of marriage (PDF). This is one of the top five rates among OECD countries. In most communities, there is no stigma linked to this condition of circumstances.

In contrast, civil partnerships (which are also known as Pacs – pactes civils de solidarité) have been increasingly common since their inception in 1999. In 2013, the French government allowed same-sex marriage. Today, more same-sex couples are selecting the Pacs over marriage. So, the French population overwhelmingly embraced same-sex marriage. However, fringe organizations, especially Catholic associations, planned big rallies in key cities at the time.

What Types Of Weddings Are Possible In France?

The civil ceremony at the town hall is France’s only legal way to wed. A government officer, the mayor, or a deputy officiates the proceedings. This can be your major ceremony, inviting all your friends and family, followed by festivities. Alternatively, many couples want to keep their formal civil wedding as simple as possible. In this instance, a new form of the ceremony may be held afterward.

There are numerous options available for wedding celebrations. Many people continue to plan religious services, and others choose symbolic ceremonies led by friends and family. The humanist wedding, also known as mariage laque, is gaining popularity in France.

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Gay Marriage And Same-Sex Partnerships In France

France approved same-sex marriage in 2013. In France, over 10,000 same-sex couples married in 2014. This number has now stabilized at roughly 6,000 each year. The procedure and legal criteria are identical to those for heterosexual couples. However, the primary religion in France is Catholicism, which does not organize religious marriages for same-sex couples in its churches.

French Civil Partnerships

The term “independent” refers to someone who does not work for the government. Although intended for same-sex couples, anyone is welcome to participate. In 2019, for example, 188,000 heterosexual and 8,000 same-sex couples entered a civil partnership. Pacs are frequently quiet affairs – no witnesses are required, and the couple plans few, if any, celebrations. There are numerous critical differences between dating and marriage:

  • In death without a will, the partner is not entitled to inherit or receive a widower’s pension.
  • Similarly, alimony is not paid if the civil partnership dissolves or you divorce.
  • Paternity is not assumed if you have a child. The father must expressly acknowledge the child as his.
  • You cannot adopt a child jointly because only one of you becomes the legal parent.
  • If you desire to adopt your partner’s former partner’s child, the child’s other parent automatically loses parental rights. As a result, most adoption requests are denied by courts.
  • You are not permitted to use your partner’s surname.
  • If you or your partner is not French, obtaining French nationality or a residence visa is more complicated.

The couple has to go to the local town hall or a notary to register their Pacs. They fill out and sign a contract. There are two types of Pac’s settlements: separation of estate and indivision, and the difference is how assets must be divided if you split up.

The Legal Requirements For Marrying In France

Rights And Requirements

Weddings in France are subject to the following privileges and obligations:

  • You have to be 18 or over, although minors can marry with parental authority.
  • You are not permitted to marry a member of your own family, whether the connection is blood, adoptive, or via alliance.
  • Each partner must express their unambiguous and free consent to the union.
  • If you are a foreigner or live abroad, you can marry in France after one month of residency or if one of your parents lives in France.
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Necessary Paperwork And Documentation

Both people need to provide the following:

  • A recent birth certificate, no older than three months if French and six months if international.
  • Valid identification, both a copy and the original document, should be presented to Mairie.
  • Proof of residency can be a document like a phone bill, electricity bill, or bank statement.

You can keep a minimum of two and a maximum of four witnesses, and they must submit the following information:

  • a copy of their identification (on the day of the marriage, they must bring the original)
  • A form containing personal data (profession, date, place of birth, and address)

A translator may require authenticating foreign documents if you cannot access a multilingual version. Let’s take a closer look at the legal criteria.

Legal Requirements For Marrying In France

The legal requirements for marrying in France are complex and can be particularly difficult for non-residents.

As a result, most couples will have a civil wedding in their home country first, followed by a religious or symbolic ceremony in France (see the special note about residency requirements below).

The following information serves as a starting point and a guideline. Although much care and effort have been made to ensure the information supplied regarding the legal requirements for getting married in France is valid, please do not accept it as legal advice. For firsthand information, I strongly suggest you contact the Consulate of the Republic of France.

Important Facts

  • A civil ceremony is the sole legally binding ceremony permitted in France.
  • Civil ceremonies are only permitted in the Mairie (Town Hall)
  • There is a 40-day residency period immediately preceding a civil ceremony.
  • A religious ceremony may occur only after a civil ceremony has occurred, either in France or your own country.

Legality Of Marriage

Marriages performed in France are internationally regarded and legally binding.

Residency Requirements

At least one of the parties in the marriage must have resided in France for a minimum of 40 days consecutively before the marriage. This must be in the vicinity of where the wedding will take place.

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Special Note About Residency Requirements

Although the 40-day residency requirement can only be waived if you or your family property is in France, the residency requirement is sometimes rigidly enforced. However, it is critical to emphasize that this is at the mayor’s discretion at the Mairie (town hall) where you plan to marry. Therefore, don’t hesitate to contact the mayor first to discuss your choices.

I wholeheartedly endorse the following independent wedding celebrants:

  • Unique Ceremonies  – They are a group of experienced celebrants that will assist you in creating a one-of-a-kind symbolic ceremony in France and Corsica.
  • Gaynor McKenan – This host is from Ceremonies in France. It is an English celebrant based in SW France.

Publication Of The Marriage Banns

As per French law, one of you must remain in France for 30 days before a marriage application can be made. The marriage application, also known as the marriage banns, must be posted at the relevant Mairie (town hall) at least ten days before the ceremony.

Required Documentation

The majority of French Mairies require some or all of the following paperwork. Specific criteria may differ depending on the area where you wish to marry. Hence, it is vital that to meet the legal requirements for marrying in France, you contact Mairie to receive the list of documents and translations required.

All documents must be original and stamped with an Apostille Stamp. Any documentation not in French must be accompanied by official translations translated by a French Consulate-approved service.

  • A Valid French resident permit or Passport  
  • This must be issued within three months of your marriage date.
  • Long Form Birth Certificate
  • If you are divorced – A divorce certificate.
  • Justificatifs de Domicile – Proof of Domicile
  • Statement of Identity along with residents of two witnesses
  • Certificat du Notaire – Prenuptial agreement
  • You must show proof of residence. This can be done with two documents, such as electricity and gas bills.
  • If you plan to have a prenuptial agreement, this must be presented to Mairie.
  • If widowed – the Death Certificate of the previous spouse.

Certificat de Celibat

This is a document to show that you are not already married. This may be sworn before a Consular official at the Embassy in France. This can be up to three months. If your country’s law does not recognize this certificate, you must obtain an official attestation from your Consulate to prove it.

  • British Citizens: Download an ‘Explanatory note instead of a certificate of celibacy’ from the Gov.uk website by following the directions.
  • US Citizens: This can be accomplished through a notarized affidavit supplied by the Consular Section of the Embassy and signed in front of an American Consular official in France.

Certificat de Coutume: (Certificate of Custom Law)

This certificate certifes that you are both free to marry and the marriage will be recognized in your country of residence.

  • British Citizens: Certificat de Coutume applications must be submitted to the FCO in London. Application forms can be downloaded on the Gov.uk website by following the prompts. Send your completed form to the FCO and the supporting documentation (specified on the application form). Once submitted, your application will be forwarded to the British Embassy in Paris, where your certificate will be issued within three weeks. It will be mailed to the address you provided on the form; however, if this address is in France, it will likely arrive considerably sooner. Certificates issued by UK authorities typically have a six-month validity period.
  • Irish Citizens: Certificat de Coutume are issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin. The necessary application forms are available for download on their website. Irish government certificates are valid for 120 days from the date of issuing.
  • US Citizens: The Mairie will usually accept an affidavit of law issued by the Embassy. Remember that some Mairies will not accept this and may require a “formal” affidavit of law provided by a French attorney or notaire who is also licensed to practice in the United States.
  • All Other Countries: Your Consulate in France will be able to assist you in obtaining these documents; please see the relevant link below for more information:
  1. United Kingdom 
  2. Ireland 
  3. USA Canada 
  4. Australia 
  5. New Zealand 
  6. South Africa

Livret De Famille

If you are married in France, you will receive a “Livret de Famille” official document for all events connected to your “new” family, such as births, funerals, divorce, or name changes.

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Marriage Certificate

Please keep in mind that the “Livret de Famille” is NOT a marriage license certificate, and the French authorities do not automatically provide marriage certificates. To receive a marriage certificate and copies of your certificate, write to the Mairie where the marriage took place and include the following information:

  • The date and place of your marriage
  • Your full name (including maiden name).

Planning Your French Wedding: Step By Step

How much preparation your French wedding requires depends on how intricate you want your day to be. Wedding planners exist in France. They are less often employed than in other nations, such as the United States.

Choose The Location

Every French wedding necessitates a legal marriage ceremony in the Mairie of the couple or one of their parent’s residences. Your first step will be to decide where you want to live.

If you wish to hold a religious ceremony, you must do so after the legal ceremony. This ceremony and festivities may be held on the same day as your civil wedding. In that scenario, you’ll need to look for a spot close to your town hall. Start exploring at least six months ahead of time and even a year or two if you’re planning a significant wedding with numerous guests.

Gather The Paperwork And Select A Date

You submit the dossier to your Mairie once you have all the relevant papers. At this point, you will meet with a government servant to finalize the wedding date. Some couples choose dates depending on when they expect to hold their wedding reception but remember that weekends can fill up quickly. It’s a good idea to have your documentation ready ahead of time so you may pick a time and date that works for you. The town hall must publish the marriage banns at least ten days before the wedding.

Contact Caterers, Entertainers, And Guests

Your location may already supply some catering, entertainment, or decorative options. You can talk to them and find out how many visitors the space can accommodate. This will help you decide the budget and the next measures to take. French wedding planning typically involves:

  • Six months to a year before the event, choose and book caterers, florists, entertainers, photographers, and videographers.
  • Make a guest list and send out save-the-dates six months to a year in advance.
  • Shop for a wedding outfit around 3-6 months before the wedding
  • Create a floor layout or seating chart, and approve decorations: 2-4 weeks before
  • Send out official invitations, book make-up, and hair, and plan transportation for 2-3 months.

On The Day

The official wedding ceremony typically adheres to the exact timetable. To begin, you must appear at the town hall around 15 minutes before your scheduled time. Someone will then take you to the wedding hall, where the local mayor or deputy will perform the ceremony – the door must stay open because the ceremony is public. You will stand as the legal passages are read out, and the ceremony may incorporate additional personal information about the couple if desired. An interpreter may be present if either of you does not speak French.

You will be asked if you approve of the wedding and exchange rings if you like. The marriage record (acte d’état civil) is then signed. After the officiant declares you a married pair, you will be given an official booklet (livret de famille) and potentially a symbolic present from the town hall. So, you can then exit the town hall and attend your religious service or festivities, perhaps accompanied by cheers and confetti.

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The Cost Of Getting Married In France

The administrative parts of a civil wedding in France are free. Beyond that, your concept for your wedding will primarily define the cost. The term “responsibility” refers to determining whether or not a person is responsible for their actions. In recent years, a French wedding with around 100 guests has cost an average of €12,000, generally split the following way:

  • Bridal gown and accessories: €800–3,000
  • Catering: €4,000–7,000
  • Space rental for the party and meal: €1,000–5,000
  • Groom’s outfit: €500–600
  • Flowers: €50–300
  • Decorations: €300–1,500
  • Music and entertainment: €1,000–1,400
  • Photographer: €1,000–3,000
  • Invitations and thank-you cards: €300–600
  • Rings: €100–1,500
  • Souvenirs for guests: €500–600

Top French Wedding Locations

Civil marriages in France must occur in the town hall (Mairie). Unlike in other nations, civil servants do not travel to your preferred place to perform the ceremony. As a result, many couples choose a civil wedding that is simple and basic, followed by a religious ceremony in a church or a more expensive celebration with friends and family in a place of their choice. Weddings often occur at countryside getaways, as it’s only sometimes simple to book facilities large enough for 100 or more people. Châteaux, converted farms, mansions, local village halls, and even outdoor settings are among the venues available.

Destination weddings are uncommon in France, despite its abundance of beautiful sites and landscapes. Couples may marry in another country to reflect their origins or lineage. In 2019, one of every seven French marriages was mixed (between a French national and someone from another country). Furthermore, those who prefer a more intimate wedding may marry abroad, with only close relatives and friends. Italy, Greece, Scotland, Morocco, and the United States are popular wedding destinations for French couples.

Wedding Traditions And Customs In France

Nowadays, weddings in France combine traditions that most Europeans and Americans are familiar with. For example, in wedding dresses – brides usually wear white and should have something old, new, borrowed, and blue. Grooms dress in a tuxedo or a fitted suit. On the other hand, bridesmaids and best men rarely wear matching ensembles.

During the festivities, there are numerous parallels to other European countries. At the end of the ceremony, visitors may shower the couple with rice or petals, and the celebration may include food, champagne, speeches, and dancing. Guests leave with a souvenir, usually in the shape of sugared almonds (dragées). Nonetheless, a few traditions and rituals are unique to France.

Rings

Engagement and wedding bands are traditionally worn on the left hand in France. Often, these rings are passed through the centuries as family treasures. Engagement rings are not always set with diamonds; other valuable stones are also popular. Wedding bands are usually basic and can be any shade of gold, silver, or platinum.

Food

French wedding dinners typically consist of three to five courses, with onion soup served after the main course late in the evening to give visitors energy after hours on the dancefloor. Instead of a huge wedding cake, consider a tower of macarons or profiteroles (chou à la crème).

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Silly Dancing

Popular songs in both French and English are commonly heard at French weddings. There could be a live band, a DJ, or traditional music from the area. Many evenings devolve into ridiculous dances inspired by pop music hits at some point. The Duck Dance is frequently mentioned, whether you like it or not. The song was a smash in 1981 and is now played on festive occasions, when guests dance a ridiculous dance, resembling ducks. Other famous tunes are La chenille (The Caterpillar) and Tourner Les serviettes (Spin the Napkins), with guests whirling napkins around their heads.

Superstitions

There’s a proverb in France: mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux. It signifies that a rainy wedding is a favorable sign for a happy couple. Rain symbolizes fertility, abundance, and favorable impacts from heaven on earth. A similar proverb is: if it rains on the wedding day, the ecus will enter the household. This means money will join the household if it rains on the wedding day.

Drinking From A Chamber Pot

This unusual practice originated in the Aveyron region. It entails waking the bride and groom the day after the wedding and serving them a strange concoction, often of chocolate, bananas, and champagne, in a chamber pot decorated with toilet paper. This ritual signifies the shift from infancy to maturity.

Regional Traditions

Each French area has its traditions regarding cuisine, games, songs, and wedding customs. Here are a few examples you may encounter:

  • Guests in the north of France create an archway of flowers and plants at the couple’s entrance and utilize paper decorations as confetti at the town hall.
  • At the ritual in Brittany, an instrument called the biniou, akin to the Scottish bagpipes, is played.
  • In the Basque Country, people adorn the wedding place with the colors of the Basque flag (red, white, and green), and the best men wear Basque berets.
  • Pine trees are planted and adorned in front of the couple’s property in the Landes and Dordogne.
  • The pair dances under a white parasol in the Pays de la Loire while guests throw streamers at them.

Useful Links

  • Service-Public.fr – This is the official government website for all your administrative questions

Interior Ministry – This government website takes you through the administrative steps linked to marriage and civil partnerships.