France is a country noted for its bureaucracy – a permit for this; a licence for that; certification for the other and all documents nicely rubber stamped! You need to prove pretty much everything when dealing with the State. Getting married in France is no exception so you need to be well organised with the paperwork.
1. Initial Requirements
Whilst both civil and religious marriage ceremonies exist in France, only the civil ceremony is recognised legally. You can have a religious ceremony but that must take place after the civil marriage. In order to ensure that this has been enforced, you must present the certificate of civil marriage to the religious official before your ceremony in your place of worship.
The civil ceremony will be conducted in French so it is a good idea to brush up and learn words specifically associated with getting married in France. It is possible to have a translator present with prior agreement.
Some couples visit a solicitor prior to the marriage to prepare a contrat de marriage. This concerns how personal goods will be treated and comes with a solicitor's certificate that must be included in the pre-marriage documentation. Without this, the law automatically follows the rule that personal goods from before the wedding remain personal but goods acquired during the marriage are shared.
2. The Dossier du Marriage
This contains all of the required documents for both partners. There are forms to fill in and officially sanctioned translations and certificates to obtain. You should start to gather these about 6 months in advance, but be careful – for non-French nationals, some of the documents must have been prepared during the 3 months preceding the wedding. All documents must be in French and some require an official seal – the Certificate of Apostille of the Hague.
3. Documentation Needed for the Dossier
Both parties need to supply:
- Birth certificate obtained from an official source within the last 3 months
- Proof of address (2 items)
For a foreign national, the ID can be a passport or carte de séjour; the birth certificate needs to be translated by a sworn translator and proof of residency can be a utility bill, rent receipt or the house insurance documents. A sworn translator is someone who is sanctioned by the French State to translate official documents into French for you.
Additionally, foreign nationals will need to supply a certificat de coutume to confirm that the marriage laws of your country of nationality do not conflict with French law plus a Certificat de Célibat, also known as a 'Certificate of Non Impediment' to confirm that you are eligible to marry. Your Embassy or Consulate can help you obtain these.
If one of the parties is divorced or widowed, they will need to supply evidence in the form of the final divorce documents or death certificate (suitably translated by your sworn translator of course).
4. Getting help
This is just an outline guide to help you get started. We strongly recommend that you carry out extensive research yourself. Your French fiancée and local Mairie will be able to help with the French legalities, however, for the requirements specific to your nationality, it is worth consulting your Embassy or Consulate and perhaps a solicitor who is allowed to practice in France.
In the meantime, why not find out how much extra French you will need to learn by taking a French language level test?