From the classic Technicolor dance scenes of An American in Paris to more recent films like Moulin Rouge and Amelie Poulain– for many Americans, Paris is the epitome of romance. And what could be a more romantic place to get married? For most couples, after deciding to get married in Paris, the first thing they do is make a giddy, “so crazy this just might work” phone call to their local French consulate, where they are instantly yanked backed down to earth by their first official French “Non”: “Mais, mademoiselle! C’est impossible! You must live in France for 40 days before you can marry in France. Impossible! Why are you calling me? Au revoir!!” Click…. And for some couples, that will be that. In a flash they’re swept directly to Plan B, their local country club with a Paris themed reception, do not pass Go, do not collect 200EUR…
Some couples, though, will want to see the dream through- they may choose to have a legal ceremony in their own country, and then come to Paris for a symbolic ceremony. Symbolic ceremonies aren’t legally binding, but are as romantic and as meaningful as you’d imagine them to be.
This article, though, is for the hard-liners- those couples that are ready to dance with the big boys, to run the gauntlet, fight the fight… Getting legally married in France as a foreigner will be one of the strongest tests to your “coupledom” as you’ve probably gone through so far. Forget about Couples Fear Factor- If you can survive this, you can survive anything
The Nitty Gritty on Getting Married in France
What the curt civil servant at the embassy told you is true. In order to be legally wed in France, one of the couple needs to have lived in France, in the district around the city hall in which they plan to marry, for a minimum of 40 consecutive days before the wedding. Some sources say 30 days, but you have to add on an additional 10 days for the city hall to publish the Banns – a public announcement that is put up in City Hall for 10 days preceding your marriage that lists your names and your impending marriage date so that any estranged husbands or wives have one last chance to find you before you’re married off.
Before asking for that sabbatical from work, though, you should know that this one little detail is actually a big one. You must show 2 separate documents that show your French address (“justificatifs de domicile“). For instance- a gas or electricity bill (a cell phone bill doesn’t count), a rent receipt, a lease, a French social security card, etc. If you are planning on renting an apartment here on a short-term lease in order to meet this marriage requirement, know that it could take several months before you receive any of the above documents. Another option is to live with a friend or relative, and have that person sign an attestation d’hebergement sur l’honneur. This is a statement swearing that you have been living at that person’s residence, and that they take responsibility for you if you happen to be a drug trafficker or illegally downloading “Desperate Housewives” or something. There is a ton of small print on this one, including a huge fine and a short trip to the guillotine if it’s ever found out that you were not, in fact, living with them.
If you are able to meet the 40-day requirement, the first thing you want to do is to get the most recent list of required documents from the city hall (mairie) in which you plan to marry. Most of these documents have specific time frames in which they must be dated before being submitted, so it’s important to get the list as soon as you can. Here is a general list of the documents that you will need to be legally wed in France. It’s important, though (and I can’t stress this enough) that you get the official, most up-to-date list from the mairie in the district (arrondisement) that you are planning to marry.
1. A valid passport or a French residence permit (“carte de sejour“)
2. A birth certificate (“extrait d’acte de naissance“): Most city halls require that you present an original copy of a complete birth certificate (with full details of your parents) issued within 3 months of your wedding date along with a sworn translation. You have to get the translation from a sworn translator (“traducteur asserment”). Sworn translators are listed at every “mairie”.
3. A certificate of celibacy (“attestation tenant lieu de declaration en vue de marriage ou de non-remariage”) less than 3 months old.
4. An Affidavit of law (“certificat de coutume”) Many mairies request an Affidavit of Law (“Certificat de Coutume“) in addition to the Affidavit of Marital Status from foreigners. The Affidavit of Law certifies that the American citizen is free to get married in France and that the marriage will be recognized in the United States. Only an attorney licensed to practice in both France and the United States may execute this document.
5. A medical certificate (“certificat medical prenuptial”): You both must get a pre-nuptial medical certificate, which says that you were examined by a doctor “en vue de mariage.” (Don’t get nervous, girls- it’s just a standard check-up plus a couple of blood tests: blood type, syphilis, rubella and toxoplasmosis…) The marriage banns cannot be published until medical certificates have been submitted to the mairie. The certificates must be dated no earlier than two months before the publication of banns. Any qualified doctor can perform the medical examination (the U.S. Embassy publishes a list of English-speaking doctors).
6. Proof of domicile (“justificatifs de domicile“) (see above)
7. A “certificat du notaire“: If you are planning on having a pre-nuptial agreement, you must go through a lawyer (a notaire) who will provide a “certificat du notaire” which must be submitted to the mairie as well. It must have been drawn up no more than 2 months prior to the marriage. If there are no pre-nuptial contracts, then you will be married under the communaut rduite aux acquets. This means that what each of you owned personally before the marriage, or whatever comes to you afterwards through inheritance, remains your own, individual property. Only that which is acquired during the marriage is owned equally by both parties. (If you’ve ever seen or read Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce, this scenario may look very familiar to you…)
If either of you were previously married, you must provide a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse or a certified copy of the final divorce decree.
8. In addition to all of the above, you will also have to choose and provide information on your witnesses (“temoins“)- 2 to 4 people who will act as sort of your Best Men and/or Maid of Honor, and sign the registry after the marriage ceremony. You will need to provide their names, addresses, their professions and photocopies of their passports with your dossier.
All of this needs to be presented to the Mairie in time for them to check and approve your documents before posting the Banns- they typically ask for your completed marriage file 10 days before their publication, but I usually suggest that my clients submit their dossier sooner than that- the curt civil servants will almost always insist that there is a document missing, sending you into yet another frenzy of frantic phone calls and emails.
When all has been accepted and approved, you will receive word from the Mairie of your wedding date and time (you can request a specific date and time ahead of time, but they will assure you that nothing is confirmed until the dossier has been approved). Keep in mind that you must be legally married in a civil ceremony before you will be allowed to have a Catholic Church ceremony in France. After your civil ceremony, you will receive a “Livret de Famille” (Family Book) a sort of wedding certificate that also has pages for all of your future children. This little blue book is the Holy Grail. If you live in France, this book will make your administrative life here a lot easier pretty much until the day you die (in which your death will be noted in said little blue book). If you don’t plan on staying in France, think of it as the ultimate wedding present.
Getting married in a foreign country is rarely easy. A Parisian wedding is just a bit more difficult than that. But if you are willing and able, the lasting memory of exchanging your vows beneath the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or in the cobbled halls of a centuries-old chateau is worth the few months of frustration.