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Getting Married in France

by Laurel Avery

There are probably few people who would disagree that getting married in France is one of the most romantic things you could do. While this is quite true, it can also be a major pain in the derrière, since the amount of administrative red tape the French government makes you go through can be daunting. For a marriage to be legal in France, since the separation of church and state here in 1905, you are only legally married if the wedding is performed by the mayor or his authorized replacement at the mairie (town hall) of your place of residence. If you decide you want a religious ceremony that's fine, but it must take place after the civil ceremony.

First of all, one of the parties getting married (i.e. the prospective bride or groom) must have resided in France for at least 40 days before the marriage, and the wedding must take place in the commune of residence.


Then there is that little list of documents required of both parties:

  • A valid passport or carte de séjour (French residency permit)
  • Birth certificate less than three months old (OK, I had to find out where this odd 3 month requirement came from. It's not like my date and place of birth would have changed over the last few years! It was explained to me by a French friend that in France all the information from the time you are born, including your birth information, is in one document, called a livret de famille, where all subsequent events are also recorded, including subsequent marriages, divorces, children, etc. So if you were planning on being bigamous, it would show up on your French "birth certificate".
  • Certificate of "celibacy" less than three months old. (No not THAT kind of celibacy. It's not like you have to refrain from sleeping with your fiance for three months. It's just a certificate stating that you are indeed single (or divorced) and are legally able to marry.
  • Medical certificate less than three months old which can be issued by any doctor practicing in France certifying that you have been examined "en vue de mariage."
  • Proof of domicile. The person residing in France must provide two documents proving residence there, which can include a phone bill, electric bill, rent receipt, etc.
  • Any pre-nuptial contracts must be drawn up by a notaire (lawyer) no more than two months before the marriage and a notaire's certificate must then be presented to the mairie along with your other documents.
  • If there have been any previous marriages, a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse or a certified copy of the final divorce decree must be provided.


All of the above documents must be translated into French by one of the approved "official" translators, a list of which is available at your mairie.

According to French law, the Banns must be published at the mairie of the commune in which you will be married 10 days before the civil marriage takes place. The mairie may require more documents before the Banns are posted, and it is always best to check with them as to what they require, as this varies from town to town.

Assuming you have jumped through all the necessary hoops, the prospective bride and groom arrive at the mairie and in the presence of the mayor and the two witnesses the couple have provided, are legally married in the eyes of France. A livret de famille is issued to the couple after the ceremony and they also receive a certificate of civil marriage which they present to their officiating person if they want a religious ceremony.

Given how much of a hassle all this is, my advice would be to get married by a judge in your home town, then fly off with the wedding party to France where, after providing proof that you are legally married (France recognizes legal marriages from any country) you can proceed on with your fairytale wedding (and nobody but the bride and groom will be any the wiser!).


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