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FAQ: Getting Married in France

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Many thanks to Val D'Ouest for supplying this information


Getting married in France


Our daughter was married here in France this year (2007) and as there was a lot of paperwork and information-finding involved I thought it might be helpful to put down our experiences for the benefit of others. The notes below will probably be more useful for people in our situation – French residents, with a non-resident daughter from another EU country wishing to marry in France – than for those couples who already live here and want to marry where they have their home.  If you wish to marry in the commune where you both already live then the paperwork and the logistics should be a lot simpler.


Who can get married in France?

Strictly speaking, either the bride or groom should be resident in the commune where the marriage is to take place for a period of not less than 40 days immediately before the wedding.  Where it is the parents of either the bride or groom who are the residents, the interpretation of the residency requirement is up to the mayor of the commune.  In our case the mayor decided that as we are full-time residents of several years standing, and our daughter has been a frequent visitor during that time, the marriage could go ahead.  If the prospective bride or groom are non resident, or part-timers, then it would be wise to talk to your mayor at the very beginning to see how the land lies.  If it looks as if there will be problems then it is always an option to have a civil ceremony in the UK, followed later by a religious service - if wished - and the reception in France.


What should you do first?

If possible the couple should visit the Mairie together to introduce themselves and to discuss the feasibility of being married there, and also to suggest possible dates.  If you are wishing to use the Salle de Fêtes for the reception then check you won’t be clashing with the Hunt Dinner, the Téléthon or any other annual village event whose date is carved in stone.  Also crosscheck all UK and French bank holidays so that you don’t choose, for example, Easter Saturday, unless you really mean to.  You will be given a very helpful booklet which lists all the various items you will need and once you have agreed the date you can work out a timetable for assembling them all.  It is unlikely that you will have to book the marriage months - or even years - in advance as you might have to do in the UK but it is as well to give family and friends as much notice as possible as they may like to arrange a  holiday to include the wedding. 

Tip!  If you arrange the wedding for midweek – say a Tuesday – guests who wish can plan a holiday Saturday to Saturday and enjoy the wedding too.  And those with less time to spare can take advantage of cheaper midweek fares.


What paperwork do you need?

According to the official booklet (Guide des futurs époux) from the Mairie, everyone getting married in France (ie both the bride and the groom) needs the following:


A copy of the Extrait d’ Acte de Naissance Intégral, dated no more than three months before the day of the wedding.  If you were born in the UK this means a copy of the longer (full) version of your birth certificate*, obtainable from the Registrar in the town where your birth was registered, issued no more than three months before the marriage.  You will need to attach to this a translation made by a ‘traducteur assermenté’ who will stamp it with his official stamps. 

Tip! If you can, ask around for the name of a fairly local traducteur assermenté.  This means you can send the traducteur a good scanned-in copy by e-mail to work from, and then show him the original when you collect the translations: this saves two journeys or having to put original documents in the mail. 

A couple of Living France posters have pointed out that all official documentation (including birth certificates) should now be accepted by other countries within the EC without the need for translation.  However, the days leading up to your wedding at the Mairie may perhaps not be the best time or place to make a stand on this issue.

  • The chances of anyone having the same complication as we did is hopefully very slim.  When my daughter applied for a full version of her birth certificate (for the first time as she had always used the shorter version) she hit a major problem.  When her father had registered her birth (admittedly somewhat shell-shocked by the arrival of premature – and unexpected – twins)  he was asked for ‘mother’s name’. He gave his mother’s name, so for 32 years our twins had been registered as their grandmother’s daughters!  Trying to unravel this and put it right was a nightmare, especially with paperwork deadlines looming. I had to make a sworn declaration I had given birth to twins in 1974, my mother in law had to declare she had not, everyone’s birth and marriage certificates had to be produced and I was asked for proof of my name and circumstances in 1974 – hard to do, after 32 years and several house moves.  Eventually a wonderful woman in the Records Office at the hospital where the girls were born found my records in a portacabin in the hospital grounds, awaiting secure disposal; copies were made and submitted with everything else to the Registrar and in due course, after jointly making another declaration witnessed by a notaire here in France, a corrected certificate was issued with just a day to spare!


Proof of identity.  We supplied b&w copies (certified by a solicitor in the UK) of the relevant pages of both passports.


Attestation sur l’honneur.  This is a form (two copies are in the booklet supplied) which the bride and groom each complete and sign to confirm that they are free to marry, and that one of them at least has been residing in the commune for the requisite time.  The form asks for domicile (ie the place in the UK which is the usual address of the person signing) and residence (ie  for one of them, the address in the commune for the period leading up to the wedding).  It may also ask for proof of residence in the commune – a utility bill in the family name should be acceptable if the marriage has already been agreed in principle.


List of witnesses (temoins)

The bride and the groom should each choose witnesses – at least one each, but no more than two.  They should enter the details (full names, dates of birth, profession  - in French - and domicile) of each witness on the forms in the booklet, and should include a clear b&w photocopy of the relevant page of the passport of each witness.


Certificat prenuptial

This is the medical certificate which must be signed by a doctor no more than three months  before the wedding; two copies are in the booklet.  It certifies that he has checked the results of various blood tests and has given you advice appropriate to the results.

Tip! The tests themselves do not need to be done within the three months before the wedding (just the certificate) which means they can be done well ahead of time by a French laboratory if you ask for a prescription from your doctor in France.  They can also be done by a private lab in the UK though this will probably cost you a great deal more. 

It is worth reading the certificate in detail before you have the blood tests done as the instructions (and the tests required) do vary.  Our French GP’s receptionist insisted that both parties would need tests for AIDS and syphilis as well as the blood group and rhesus factor tests, and that the bride would also need tests for immunity to rubella and toxiplasmosis.  In fact, when we read the small print and pointed it out to the doctor, AIDS and syphilis tests were not required – all he was required to do was to advise the couple that they would be wise to consider whether testing would be prudent in their circumstances!


Reseignements a fournir a l’officier de l’etat civil

This is a long form containing all the information about the couple and their parents.  It has to be completed in French so you need to find out the French equivalent of ‘beauty therapist’, ‘merchant banker’, ‘carpet fitter’ or whatever occupations have to be entered.


Marriage contract

If you wish your marriage to be formalised under a particular regime then you will need to have this drawn up by a notaire before the marriage.  Otherwise it will by default be under Régime légal de la communauté (where money and belongings acquired after marriage are jointly owned).


In addition, non-French nationals may be asked for


Certificat de Célibat

This is simply a certificate saying that in the UK there is no such certificate, and may be printed off the British Embassy website for no charge.


Certificat de Coutume

This is stated in the booklet as being required though some people have not been asked for it.  It is obtainable from the British Embassy in Paris (you need one each if neither of you is French) and has just gone up to €92 (plus the cost of recorded delivery out and back if you feel this is necessary).  You can download the application form from the Embassy website, and certified copies of passports and birth certificates are acceptable.  You can also apply via the Foreign Office if you are based in the UK – details are on the Embassy website.


Other documents

If you are divorced, widowed, a minor, in the services or have children who will be legitimised by the marriage then you will need to produce extra paperwork: it’s all set out in the booklet.


Calling the banns

Once your dossier is complete and handed over, the banns will be called and notice of the forthcoming marriage will be posted at the Mairie.  The amount of time required  for this seems to vary: we were nearly thrown because after a date was agreed for the handing over of the dossier (and the bridal couple had booked their flights from the UK accordingly) the secretary and the Maire at our tiny Mairie (only open Tuesday mornings) discovered that they would both be away on that date and for the ten days following, which meant there would not be enough time for the bans to be posted. At least six weeks seems to be required as a general rule but best to ask your own Mairie, and also check what holidays fall between then and the wedding in case that makes a difference.



Just before the wedding


The mayor will probably want to run through the ceremony with the bride and groom before the Big Day, along with the translator if you are having one.  We were asked if we wanted music and opted to bring along a CD player and speakers so that something suitable could be played during the period between the arrival of the bride and the start of the ceremony, and afterwards as the newlyweds left the Mairie.  The couple also asked if they could exchange rings and so this was incorporated into the end of the ceremony.  The mayor suggested that if there were any young children in the family they might like to act as ring bearers, so the groom’s little niece and nephew were recruited to carry a ring apiece, firmly attached to a ring cushion.



The wedding ceremony


The civil marriage ceremony is quite simple and straightforward.  It must be completed before any religious wedding service is conducted, and is the only way a marriage in France is recognised as legal.


Traditionally in our part of France, the bride’s family and the groom’s family will host pre-wedding parties separately in their own homes, with wine and savouries on offer.  The bridegroom then goes from his home to the bride’s home to collect her, and they arrive together at the Mairie.  However, since the bridegroom in our case hailed from Yorkshire and his family were staying in a chalet park a few miles away we dispensed with that bit, and our daughter was driven by her father to the Mairie (in his vintage car, suitably decorated for the occasion) where the groom awaited her.   But whether the couple arrive together or separately there seems to follow a few minutes of informal chatting with the guests and then some photographs until the ceremony is due to begin. The couple, their parents and the witnesses proceed into the Mairie – in our case into the Council Chamber – where they are seated in front of the Mayor’s desk.  Family and friends file in and stand round the room as best they can, the principals are asked to stand, and the ceremony begins.  Our friend who acted as translator repeated in English everything spoken by the Mayor in French, paragraph by paragraph. The only words spoken by the bride and groom were ‘Oui’ in response to the question whether they would take each other as husband and wife (and ‘Yes’ in response to the English version of the question).  It was all over in about ten minutes, rings were exchanged, and then we all signed the register.  I was surprised to find that I – and the mother of the groom - were listed under our maiden names on all paperwork but we were assured we should nevertheless sign the register with our usual signature.


The bride and groom then emerged into the sunshine to a cloud of bubbles which were blown from little containers of soap solution as an environmentally friendly alternative to confetti.  We had dispensed with an official photographer but when one is used in France this often means huge group shots, a bit like school photographs, with absolutely everyone placed in rows and recorded for posterity  - as well, of course, as the usual pictures of the happy couple.


Another French tradition we dispensed with was the motor cavalcade around the commune with horns blaring and ribbons trailing.  In our area this happens just after the ceremony and then again as the wedding feast ends at around 6.00 am the following morning.




Post-wedding paperwork


On leaving the Mairie after the ceremony, the couple were presented with a Livre de Famille in which their wedding was recorded and space was allotted to enter the births of at least eight children of the marriage.  They were also given a photocopy of the Acte de Mariage as it was entered in the Commune Register, complete with all the original seals and official signatures: this is in fact the legal equivalent of the Marriage Certificate.  The Bulletin de Mariage, which is a one-page official-type document looking far more like a ‘proper’ marriage certificate, is actually only issued for handing over to the priest to prove the civil marriage has taken place and he can therefore proceed with the religious service. 


Tip! However, if you aren’t having a church service, then this Bulletin - with a certified translation attached – is usually readily accepted as evidence of marriage by banks, building societies etc in the UK.  In fact even a copy of it, certified by a solicitor, is normally acceptable with the translation.


If you wish your marriage to be registered in the UK (not essential but it means you can in the future obtain additional copies of your certificate from the Central Registry in Southport rather than going back to the Mairie which issued the original) then you will have to ask your Mairie to complete a Formule pluralingue d’extrait de l’acte de mariage.  This simply enters the dates, names etc into a series of boxes which are keyed to translations in several languages and removes the need for any extra translation.  The British Embassy in Paris assured me that most Mairies had copies of the form but if not then they could photocopy it from Instruction générale relative à l'état civil which is every Mairie’s instruction handbook.  Our Mairie had no forms and no copy of this book but with all the details provided they were able  to trace the form and have it faxed from another bigger Mairie.


This form is then sent (by you, not the Mairie) to Paris with a French cheque for €53, a photocopy of the passport of whichever of the couple is applying for registration,  and a covering letter including the address to which notification of registration should be sent.  It is possible to process this form via the Foreign Office but as they send the whole thing back to the British Embassy there is little point; they also require more supporting documentation.  Eventually the form should reach the General Registry at Southport and when they have registered the details they will inform the applicant that this has been done; they retain on file all the documentation they have been sent.  From then on you can apply to Southport for a copy of your marriage certificate just as if you had been married in the UK, but what you will get is a photocopy of the pluralingual form, stamped and authenticated by the General Registry, which should be as acceptable as a UK certificate.  If you cannot get a copy of this form from your Mairie then it is possible to send the Acte de Mariage (the one you were issued with, not a certified copy) to the Embassy with a full certified translation, and the fee.  This means that if you apply to Southport in later years for a copy of your marriage certificate you will get authenticated copies of the 2 pages of the Acte, plus 2 pages of translations, not the most convenient thing to carry around, and you will have had to pay for the translation, so hold out for the pluralingual form if you can.


Other tips!


As you are likely to be having guests attending from far and wide, a website is invaluable.  Clever people can probably set up their own from scratch but for those who haven’t the skill or the time I can heartily recommend www.wedquarters.com which allows complete novices like me to put together an attractive and useful website with comparatively little effort. I included info on travel and accommodation options as well as something about the area. The company is based in Canada and it costs $30 for a package including the design framework (lots of choice from quietly cool to really naff) and a year’s hosting, which means you can put a selection of the wedding photos on too.


If you have dealings with any official body, in the UK  or in particular at the British Embassy in Paris, you may have trouble getting a response at busy times.  If you are put through to someone who is knowledgeable and helpful ask for their extension number which can usually be dialled direct, avoiding the busy switchboard another time.


Once you have set the date, sending out Save the Date cards to those people you really want to be there is sensible, so they can set aside the necessary holiday time.


If you are  working to a budget, making your own invitations, menu cards and place name cards is not hard to do.  A great place to start is www.weddingcrafter.co.uk which has an excellent choice of materials and plenty of ideas.


If you live in rural France try to remember that you came here because you liked the slow pace of life and the refusal to rush.  Especially when you are arranging the reception and everyone seems to think that discussing things in detail more than three months in advance is totally mad, and when no-one seems to want to accept a deposit for anything, which would at least make you feel more secure.  You just have to escape from the British mindset and go with the flow – or have a nervous breakdown!


One great feature of French wedding receptions is that they do not usually  involve speeches.  We compromised – the father of the bride and the groom both said a few words, the couple’s health was drunk, and that was that.  There is no official ‘best man’ in the UK sense. Unless you really like wedding speeches, this is the perfect excuse to dispense with the tradition.


After much discussion we decided to have a French-style wedding cake instead of the traditional tiered and iced English fruitcake.  This was a pièce montée – a tall pyramid of choux pastry balls filled with chocolate (or vanilla, or coffee) cream, held together with nougatine and decorated with the couple’s names in icing.  It was made by the local patisserie and delivered straight to the Salle de Fêtes during the celebrations; the couple cut it at the end of the meal and it was served (2 choux per guest) with the raspberry mousse which was our dessert.  It is worth asking around for estimates – which are usually per choux.  We were given estimates ranging from 0.45 cents to €2 per choux.


We decided early on that this was to be a really informal wedding and that the Salle de Fêtes (village hall) next door to the Mairie would be used for the reception.  Like most Salles de Fêtes it was not strong on ambience and needed a lot of input to make it attractive and welcoming.  It makes life easier if you start early with ideas, working to a colour scheme, so that you can assemble whatever you need – in our case hundreds of blue and silver balloons, banners (in French and English)  and streamers.  As the room had one very grotty wall, some good friends managed to disguise this totally with 20-foot fronds of bamboo cut from their garden and arranged in pots (empty paint tins covered in foil) filled with stones.  The  final effect was magical – so successful that it was used for the commune Fête events later in the summer.


Another great French idea – the Vin d’honneur!  This is a drinks and snacks event which follows the wedding ceremony and means you can invite more people, especially those living locally, to enjoy the occasion and some hospitality afterwards without having to stretch the guest list for the evening meal.  Our wedding was at  5pm and by 5.45 everyone was tucking in to champagne and savouries under a giant awning between the Mairie and the Salle de Fêtes.  This went on until 7.15pm or so when the Vin d’honneur guests drifted away and the others went inside ready for the meal.  I was worried that there might be some confusion and that the Vin d’honneur people might not realise they were not invited to the whole thing but it is a common practice in France and I found the appropriate wording for their version of the invitations on an internet website, Putting a time slot (wedding at 5, Vin d’honneur 5.30 until 7.00) removed any remaining ambiguity.


In rural France it is quite common for the clients of the traiteur (caterer) to provide some of the ingredients for the meal – they are often farmers of course.  So if you receive sample estimates from previous events look carefully to see just who supplied what.  I thought the menu was incredible value until I realised the client in question had supplied all the chickens for the meal (which the traiteur had then prepared) , the cheese, and  the salad.  It was nevertheless excellent value but still to be added in were separate costs for the table linen, hire of staff, rental of an extra fridge et etc.  And the traiteur suggested we provide all the wine so he didn’t have to add on 19.4% TVA.


It may not be the case in every Salle de Fêtes but we had to provide all the requisites for the loos – toilet paper, paper towels, soap etc and clean the entire premises the following morning. 


Hiring a bus or minibuses to take your guests to and from the celebrations will be much appreciated and prevent anyone being tempted to drive after having too much to drink.


If you have any specific questions, I’ll be pleased to help if I can.  Please post under the forum  below in the first instance.


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