The civil ceremony is the only legally recognised marriage ceremony in France and is uniquely permitted for heterosexual couples of 18 years old and over. The French civil ceremony is held at the town hall (Hotel de Ville / Mairie in French) nearest to either one of a couple’s principal home and is conducted by a person with official state authority (either the Mayor or one of his deputies). It is sometimes possible to marry at the town hall closest to either of the future Bride and Groom’s parents’ house if this location is preferred. Contrary to practice in certain other countries, the state official is not permitted to conduct a civil ceremony anywhere other than the town hall where they are based. The French civil ceremony may be accompanied by a religious ceremony, but religious ceremonies are not legally binding in France and must take place after the civil ceremony (either on the same day or at a later date).
Process of Application
Te following paperwork must be provided to the town hall to complete the wedding file:
- A birth certificate. For all French residents born abroad, the birth certificate should be issued not more than 6 months before the wedding date and must be translated into French by a sworn translator.
- A valid form of ID (passport, driving licence, national ID card).
- Documentation to prove residency in France (rental agreement, electricity bill, property deeds, phone bill etc).
- The names, signature and contact details for the witnesses (1 for each of the couple minimum and 4 maximum, all over 18 years of age).
- Divorce certificate or death certificate of a previous spouse if either of the couple has been married before.
- Copies of all of the birth certificates of any children the couple has had together or adopted together.
In France, there is a 10 day waiting period between the date that the couple have turned in their marriage application and when they can actually get married. The 10 day period allows for the publication of ‘banns’ which consists of publicising the following information outside the town hall where the couple are due to marry: full name, profession, principal address, place where the wedding will be celebrated. Effectively the 10 days ‘banns’ period is to allow for anyone who believes there is a lawful reason why the couple may not wed to come forward (to proclaim a suspicion of polygamy or bigamy for example).
Marriage for Foreigners in France
Foreigners can marry in France providing that all necessary documentation can be provided. Depending on your nationality, additional documentation not mentioned above is required such as a Certificate of Celibacy (Certificat de Célibat) which is issued by your foreign embassy in France and a Certificate of Custom (Certificat de Coutume), also issued by your foreign embassy in France.
If neither you or your partner are French nationals but have been an official French resident for at least 40 days (allowing for the 10 day ‘banns’ period after the legal minimum requirement of 30 consecutive days of residency) a civil ceremony is definitely possible. A holiday home in France is sometimes accepted as proof of residency but the official line is that you are supposed to be full-time residents in France.
If neither you nor your partner are full-time residents or have a holiday home in France, it is difficult to hold a legally binding civil ceremony in France. However, if either you or your partner’s parents have a home in France be it a principal residence or holiday home, it is sometimes possible.
Many foreign couples decide to marry officially in their country of residence before coming to France to hold their main festivities. Once in France, you have either the possibility of holding a non-religious ceremony conducted by a wedding celebrant or alternatively you could hold a religious ceremony in a place of worship. Normally the officiant (the person who will be leading the ceremony) at a place of religious worship will require proof of marriage such as a copy of your marriage certificate, before agreeing to conduct your ceremony at his / her establishment.
The Civil Ceremony
The French civil ceremony is held in a room in the town hall dedicated for the purpose of wedding ceremonies. The doors of the room must be left open throughout the ceremony as marriage is considered to be a public act. Usually a Marianne statue, the symbol of the French Republic, can be found in the room. The state official (either the Mayor or one of his deputies) who is conducting the ceremony, wears a scarf which represents his official state authority. The bride and groom must respect an appropriate dress code which must not prevent the ability to verify their true identify. The French civil code concerning the act of marriage is read out by the state official, the bride and groom must respond affirmatively when prompted. There is no mention in the French civil wedding ceremony text of the exchange of rings, however upon request this can be integrated into the end of the ceremony by the state official. Both of the couple must be sufficiently fluent in French to be able to fully understand the civil code. If this is not the case, an interpreter can be provided. Once the ceremony has been conducted, the couple will be given a ‘livret de famille’, an official document where all formation regarding persons in the family are noted such as names and birth date of children etc.
For detailed information regarding the legal issues surrounding getting married in France, you can visit the official French governmental website for civil marriages.