I was able to pull off our small wedding with about 6 weeks’ lead time (and a little help from le monsieur!). My circumstances may have been a tad easier since my husband is a French citizen…
One major difference between weddings in France and the US is that in France, for a wedding to be official, it must take place in the town hall, or mairie, where you live*. Every town has a mairie, and in big cities like Paris, each arrondissement does too. Afterward (and only afterward) can you have a ceremony in a church, and that ceremony has no legal standing. A church ceremony does not have to happen on the same day as the ceremony at the mairie.
Before the Wedding
[adblock]Your first step after deciding to tie the knot is to go to your local mairie and get a list of all the documents you’ll need to produce as part of your wedding dossier. In Paris they’ll give you a well-organized folder titled “Se marier à Paris”. Nothing required is too complicated (although it’s all in French), but since you may require translations to be done, allow yourself some time. The employee in the mariage department at the mairie will walk you through the list of requirements and indicate the ones applicable to your situation (such as children, divorce, etc).
Wait, you can’t kiss yet! You haven’t done the paperwork!
The list of documents required as of Feb 2013 was as follows for the 17ème arrondissement, where we live. Mairies can differ, but should be pretty close if not identical to this (but confirm in person!). Unless noted, all must be originals and less than 3 months old.
• Application forms filled out for each spouse and the marriage (Renseignement concernant la futur/e époux/épouseand Informations sur le Mariage)
• Proof of residence within the mairie’s jurisdiction (justicatif de domicile dans l’arrondissement). These can include EDF bills, landline bills, rent receipts.
• List of witnesses along with copies of their identity cards (liste des témoins accompagnée des photocopies de leurs pièces d’identités). You can have 2-4 witnesses in total.
• If you have a marriage contract (pre-nup), provide the certificate of the notaire at least 10 days before the wedding (you will receive the actual contract after the marriage)
• Birth certificate (acte de naissance) for each spouse (see below for foreign spouses) dated within 3 months
• Proof of identity (pièce d’identité): can be national identity card, passport, drivers license
• Note that in certain cases, you will have to provide additional documents: If you are staying in hosted lodging, if you have children together, if you are divorced, widowed or in the military.
For foreign spouses, there are additional requirements:
• Copy of birth certificate with apostille**, translated by an official French translator (listed here). This must be dated within 6 months of the deposit of the wedding dossier (important distinction is that it is within 6 months of the dossier being submitted, not the wedding itself in case you choose a wedding date months in the future).
• The passport or carte de sejour
• A ‘certificat de coutume’ (certificate of national custom) which ensures that your marriage will be recognized in your home country. You need to make an appointment to get this at the US Consulate. They have the blank forms there and will give it an official seal. Must be under 6 months old.
• An ‘attestation de célibat’ (affidavit of celibacy and identity) from the US Consulate, certifying that you are single, divorced or widowed, thus eligible to be married. This must also be less than 6 months old. (Note: this also goes by the names ‘certificat de capacité matrimoniale’ or ‘certificat de capacité à mariage’)
• In the case of divorce or widowhood or refugee status, there are some additional requirements.
I visited the mairie several times before the wedding. First to pick up the list of requirements, then to go back with some questions, and again with my fiancé since both future spouses are required for the final deposit of the dossier.
When they deem your dossier to be complete, they will post the marriage banns in the mairie for 10 days. The marriage banns is just a piece of paper listing your names and addresses and intention to get married, and it provides the opportunity for anyone to object if they know of a reason you can’t get married. For us it meant receiving a little junk mail from photographers. In our mairie, they would not let us choose the date of our wedding until after this 10-day period had passed. You have up to a year afterward to have your ceremony.
Our adjoint mayor
In our mairie, weddings are performed every 20 minutes from 10am – noon each Saturday. Normally, the first couple to reserve a time slot will pick 11:40, and each couple works backward until the 10am appointment. There is a salle de mariage in the mairie, and there will be a staffer on hand coordinating wedding parties as one exits and another enters.
Having never seen a wedding in France before, I found it useful to go to the mairie a week in advance and watch a few ceremonies so I could get a feel for how they proceed. These civil ceremonies are public, so it’s ok to attend anyone’s. In fact, it’s a legal requirement that the door to the salle de mariage remain open.
The wedding will be performed by the mayor or adjoint mayor who enters the room bearing a red, white and blue sash. The ceremony consists of the reading of various portions of the civil code related to marriage, the signing of the wedding register by the spouses and their witnesses, and maybe a few ad hoc words by the mayor. You will be asked if you are in agreement (Say ‘Oui’, not ‘I do’!). Some couples exchange rings and kiss, while others having a church ceremony afterward may choose to exchange them there instead.
The livret de famille and rings
Though it goes without saying that the entire ceremony will be in French, you can bring a translator if you need. I provided our English-speaking guests a written overview of how the ceremony would unfold and a translation of the civil code that was going to be read.
At the end of the ceremony, you will be presented with your ‘livret de famille’, or family record book. This important book records the marriage details as well as the details of any children you have in the future (up to 9 of them!).
After the Wedding
In the days following the ceremony, you should return to the mairie to pick up a copy of the ‘Acte de Mariage’, or marriage certificate. We had to send a copy of this to our notaire and in return they sent us a copy of our marriage contract (pre-nup).
Have some champagne, party, and enjoy your life together!
I need a Cheat Sheet!
If this all seems intimidating and you need a quick list of action items to get you started, here’s what I’d do immediately after deciding to get married, even before you go to the mairie. The good news is you can do most of these tasks online. Make sure this is within 3 months of going to the mairie so your forms don’t become outdated:
• ASAP: Order a copy of your birth certificate and apostille from the state where you were born (this can take up to a month to get to you, and then it will need to be translated). I’ve used Vitalchek twice successfully.
• Make an appointment online at the Consulate to get your ‘certificat de coutume’ and ‘certificat de celibataire’. Some times of year can be backed up.
• Get a copy of the French spouse’s birth certificate
• Make sure your electricity/gas bills are in both of your names. Afterward, print an attestation on the EDF website as proof of domicile.
• Set up a joint bank account (if you plan to stay in France).
• Go to the mairie in person and get a copy of the list of required documents.
* At least one of the spouses must reside in the mairie’s jurisdiction for at least 30 continuous days before the posting of the banns in order to get married here. So count on at least 40 days.
** An apostille is an official form recognized internationally that will be affixed to your original birth certificate proving that it is authentic (do not separate them!). Once you have both, have the birth certificate translated by an official translator. No need to get the apostille form itself translated since it already includes French and Spanish translations.
I sincerely hope you find this information useful in planning your big day. DO not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!
Marriage and PACS in France from US Consulate
Canadians, you wish to get married in France?
Marriage and PACS in France from Australian Embassy
How to get married abroad if you’re British
Becoming Madame is super helpful in all administrative endeavors
I love looking at the romantic photos of couples around Paris by Lindsay Kent