Excerpt from Kimberley Petyt’s book “The Paris Wedding” – the definitive guide to getting married in Paris, France or creating a Paris wedding theme, packed full of practical advice, fabulous style tips and glorious photographs. Here Kimberley gives you “the skinny on getting married in Paris”:
What could be more stylish and romantic than a wedding in Paris? With the rise in popularity of destination weddings and the thriving hospitality industry that caters to them, Paris has become as viable a destination option to the newly engaged as a wedding on either coast of the United States. Unfortunately, alongside the fairy-tale images of a Parisian wedding is the harsh reality of miles and miles of administrative red tape.
One of the biggest obstacles for you love-struck couples who want to get married in Paris is that in order to be legally wed in France, at least one of you needs to have lived in France, in the district around the city hall in which you plan to get married, for a minimum of forty consecutive days before the wedding. This includes the additional ten days for the city hall to publish the banns—a public announcement that is put up in the city hall for ten days before your marriage that lists your names and your wedding 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 pretty big one. In order to prove residency, you’ll need to show two separate official documents that show your French address (called a justificatif de domicile) such as a gas or electricity bill, a rent receipt, a French social security insurance card or a car leasing agreement. And just in case you’ve got the bright idea to rent an apartment in Paris on a short-term lease in order to meet this legal requirement, you need to know that it could take several months before you receive some of those documents.
If you’re not able to rent your own apartment, another option is for you and/or your honey to move in with a friend or relative in your desired district, and have that person sign an attestation d’hébergement sur l’honneur. This is a statement swearing that you have been living in that person’s home, and that they take full responsibility for you if you happen to be an illegal truffle trafficker or something. There is a ton of small print attached to this document, 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. Know that this is a pretty big favor that you’d be asking of someone.
If there’s one thing that you should learn early on about France and the French it’s that they love their paperwork. If you’re newly engaged, have decided to get married in Paris, and the forty-day residency issue is sorted out, the VERY first thing that you want to do is get the most recent list of required paperwork from the city hall (mairie) in which you plan to marry. Most of these documents have to be dated within specific time frames before being submitted, so it’s important to get the list as soon as you can. It’s important, though (and I can’t stress this enough), that you get the official, most up-to-date list from the specific city hall in the district (arrondissement) in which you are planning to marry. The lists are essentially the same, but there could be slight variations from district to district, so to be on the safe side, you should probably go to the source. Here’s a list of documents and information you’ll be required to have:
Valid passport or a French residence permit (carte de séjour)
Birth certificate (extrait d’acte de naissance): Most city halls require that you present an original copy of a complete birth certificate (with full parentage details) along with a sworn translation, issued within three months of your requested wedding date. The translation must be done by a sworn translator (traducteur assermente), not merely someone who speaks French very well. A list of sworn translators is available in French city halls and your local French consulate or embassy.
Affidavit of law (certificat de coutume): This certifies that the American citizen is free to get married in France and that the marriage will be recognized in the United States.
Certificate of celibacy (attestation tenant lieu de déclaration en vue de mariage ou de non remariage): This is essentially the same thing as the certificat de coutume, a legal document that says you’re free to marry. Some city halls require one of these documents over the other, and some require both. Be sure to clarify this with your specific city hall. Both of these documents must be dated less than three months from your wedding date.
Medical certificate (certificat médical prénuptial): You both must get a prenuptial 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 for things like rubella or toxoplasmosis). The marriage banns cannot be published until medical certificates have been submitted to the city hall. The certificates typically must be dated no earlier than two months before the publication of the banns. Any qualified doctor can perform the medical exam.
Certificat du notaire: If you’re planning on having a pre- nuptial agreement, you must go through a lawyer who will provide you with a certificat du notaire, which you must submit to the city hall with the rest of your documents. It must have been drawn up no more than two months prior to the marriage. If there are no prenuptial contracts, then you’ll be married under the communauté réduites aux acquêts. 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 items or property that is acquired during the marriage is considered equally owned by both parties. (If you’ve ever seen or read Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce, this scenario may look familiar to you.) If either of you were previously married, you must also provide a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse or a certified copy of the final divorce decree.
Témoins: In addition to all of the above, you will also have to choose and provide information on your witnesses (témoins)—two to four people who will act as your legal best men and/or maid(s) of honor—and sign the registry after the marriage ceremony. You will need to provide their names, addresses, professions and photocopies of their French identity cards or foreign pass- ports with your dossier.
All of this needs to be presented, in person, 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 twenty days before their publication, but I usually suggest that my clients submit their file sooner than that, just in case there’s a document missing. When all has been accepted and approved, you’ll receive confirmation from the mairie of your wedding date (you can request a specific date and time when you drop off your paperwork, 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 religious ceremony in France. After your civil ceremony, you’ll receive a Livret de Famille—a velvet booklet that contains your marriage certificate. It also has LOTS of extra pages for you to keep track 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.
French Embassy United States: 4101 Reservoir Road, NW Washington, D.C. 20007 www.info-france-usa.org www.ambafrance-us.org
French Consulates United States: The Lenox Building, Suite 500 3399 Peachtree Road Atlanta, Georgia 30326 www.consulfrance-atlanta.org
88 Kearny Street, Suite 600 San Francisco, California 94108 www.consulfrance-sanfrancisco.org
934 Fifth Avenue New York, New York 10021 www.consulfrance-newyork.org
French Embassy England: 58 Knightsbridge London SW1X 7JT www.ambafrance-uk.org
French Embassy Canada: 42 Promenade Sussex Ottawa, Ontario K1M 2C9 www.ambafrance-ca.org/
Review of The Paris Wedding, Interview with Kimberley Petyt in which she talks about her own wedding in France and how she met her French husband in Paris.