When my boyfriend proposed (atop a freezing, misty mountain in Ireland, on New Year’s Eve), it went without saying that we’d get married in Nice. This sparkling city on France’s Mediterranean coast is where we met and have called home for the past four years and counting.
Yet the proposal was one thing, navigating the path to the wedding date another. I’m not saying that getting married in France is complicated. More that, as with everything in this country I’m lucky to call home, there’s a definite process to follow and to be forewarned is definitely to be prepared.
So, if like us, you can’t imagine a country more synonymous with romance as France, here’s a beginner’s guide (for expats and visitors alike) to getting married here.
First Step – Say Oui!
The first step? Saying ‘oui’, of course!
But that’s the simple part. Once you’ve decided on France as your destination, the bigger question is what to do next.
Civil Ceremony in France
One of the most crucial points you should know is that France firmly separates church and state. As such, only a civil ceremony, held at your local mairie (town hall) and officiated by a representative of the mayor, is legally recognised here. In fact, in order to complete a religious ceremony, you will need to present proof of your civil ceremony.
Your first stop should be the town hall to request a ‘dossier de marriage’, or wedding file, which highlights the specific documents that you will need in order to book a date to say ‘I do’ in France.
The rules and regulations are always subject to change, but, as a general rule, you’ll need the following documents:
Birth Certificate (original and certified translation).
Certificat de Coutume (Certificate of no impediment to marriage), if you are not a French national. Contact your embassy or consulate for more information.
Proof of address.
Witnesses (who speak French. They will test them).
If you’re an expat in France, once you’ve organised all the documents you can return to the mairie, and, dossier approved, book in your wedding date. You’ll be asked to return about a week before to confirm witnesses and submit your contrat de marriage, should you have chosen one. This isn’t an absolute requirement, however it’s very common here in France. Should you wish to learn more, a notaire (notary) is best placed to explain and advise what is best for your individual situation.
The Big Day
Then you’re set to go for the big day! The bride, groom and witnesses are required to be present at least 15 minutes prior to the ceremony.
Here in Nice we were presented with our livret de famille (a family book, a document more important than the marriage certificate) as well as lots of lovely gifts, including a book entitled ‘J’ai dit Oui à Nice’ (I said yes in Nice!). I imagine each city has their own traditions and specific touches to add to the ceremony.
We also organised an interpreter who could translate the ceremony from French into English for our family and friends who had flown in from Australia and Ireland.
The ceremony lasted about 15 minutes, after which we headed to lunch and before we knew it, it was time for the evening party to begin. It was a long, wonderfully fabulous day.
Destination Wedding in France
Now, if you’re coming to France for a destination wedding, the proof of address (which seems the most simple of requirements) poses a slightly larger problem. To legally marry in France (remember, a civil wedding at the mairie), you must have resided in the country for 40 continuous days. This simply isn’t possible for many people who are planning a destination wedding.
So, to put it simply, many people choose to hold their legal ceremony in their home country and a symbolic ceremony in France.
Whether your heart is set on a fairytale wedding in a Loire Valley château, a vineyard in Bordeaux or beachside on the French Riviera, there’s a destination to suit all tastes and budgets in this country, which provides the perfect backdrop to your dream wedding day.
By Chrissie McClatchie, an Australian wine specialist who has been living in Nice, France. You can follow her travels at www.rivieragrapevine.com .