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Down the Aisle: Marriage in France

Whether it takes place in a vineyard in Bordeaux or a country chapel in Provence, a French wedding is bound to be a beautiful event. However, it does help to have some background knowledge of the logistics, as marriage, like all things, requires some paperwork.

At a Glance:

  • The marriage application has to be submitted to the local mairie by both people who want to get married.
  • The secular wedding ceremony has to take place in a town hall but can be followed up with a religious wedding of your choice.
  • Expats who marry a French citizen will have to wait another four years before they can apply for citizenship.
  • In order to file for divorce, at least one spouse has to reside in France. The division of assets is overseen by a notary.

Preparing for Marriage

Unlike in many countries, prior to the wedding, the civil ceremony must take place in a town hall — a mairie in French —  which you are linked to through a parent, or through it being the place where you or your spouse live in France. The application to marry must be made by the couple, rather than by just one of you. The forthcoming marriage is then announced, and is typically followed by a four-week wait, allowing time for anyone with knowledge of a legal impediment regarding the marriage to come forward. To be married in France, the legal age of consent is eighteen years old and, like in most Western countries, polygamy is illegal.

It is worth noting that a contrat de marriage — or rather a prenuptial agreement — is only considered to be valid if it is signed prior to the marriage, and is used to alter standard inheritance laws, often in cases such as regarding children from previous marriages.

There is a fair amount of paperwork needed to perform a marriage ceremony in France.

You can expect to be asked for the following documents:

  • your passport or alternative identification documentation
  • proof of address, such as providing recent home bills
  • birth certificate with an Apostille
  • information regarding your marriage witnesses
  • a Certificat de Coutume, which can be acquired from your embassy and insures your marriage is accepted in your home country
  • proof of civil status — also available from your embassy
  • documentation of previous marriages or divorce

When Two Become One: The Marriage

Legally, French marriages must take place in a town hall as a secular event with a mayor or else with their representative present.  Expats can follow this up with the traditional religious ceremony of their choice. The marriage itself will be held in French and cannot take place more than a year or less than ten days after marital authorization has been approved.

Can I Become a Citizen through Marriage?

Once the marriage has taken place, even if you are marrying into a French family, you will not automatically gain French citizenship. Rather, you must wait four years, at which point your French will be tested. You must also prove that you and your French spouse are still living together and that they are still a French citizen. On a separate note, a spouse does not automatically take their partner’s name, however it is customary for women in France to choose to take their husband’s name nonetheless.

Same Sex Couples in France

Same sex marriage has been legal in France since 2013, as has adoption by same sex couples. However, lesbian couples in France do not have access to assisted reproductive technology such as IVF. Surrogacy is also not an option, as this is illegal throughout France for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.  

Tackling Divorce

To obtain a divorce in France, it is necessary for one, if not both of the couple to be residing in the country. Providing that a divorce agreement is reached by both spouses, a divorce par consentement mutuel can be arranged by a lawyer and presented to the high court. However, if either spouse will not accept the divorce, a judge will request to know the grounds for the separation.

In such a case, the spouse filing for divorce must prove that their partner is at fault for the split. In French, this is called the divorce pour faute. In cases where both parties want to divorce but an agreement cannot be reached on all issues, a judge is required to settle disputed topics: this is known as a divorce accepté.

In order to start off the divorce, the local mairie can assist with providing paperwork. The simplest form of divorce is the divorce par consentement mutuel and takes from a quarter to half a year. The division of assets is usually overseen by a notary, and this charge tends to be 1% of the total value of assets being divided.

The following documentation will likely be required:

  • formal petition for divorce
  • pre-nuptial agreement
  • identification documentation or passport
  • family record book — livret de familie
  • residency permit information
  • income, property and tax information

Courts and Child Custody

In France, courts favor a child having one home as opposed to joint custody, although this is sometimes also possible. Nevertheless, both parents keep certain rights over the child. The parent who does not have custody will pay living costs to the other parent until the child turns 18.


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