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Marriage and Divorce

France - Marriage and Divorce

The same laws regarding marriage apply to both French nationals and expats and marriages which take place in France are considered to be legally binding in most countries. The only official ceremony in France is the civil ceremony. The civil ceremony must be performed by a licensed officer of the state, so this could be the mayor or a city councillor. A religious ceremony is not compulsory but it has no legal status, so if you choose to have the religious ceremony this can only be after the civil ceremony. Many people choose to do this on the same day. In order to have a religious ceremony too your minister will need to see proof that the civil ceremony has been carried out.

At least one of the couple who are marrying must have been resident in France for a minimum of 40 consecutive days prior to the ceremony and the civil ceremony must take place in the same commune as the residence of that person. After 30 days you can apply for the civil ceremony to take place and if both of you are resident in France in different communes, you can choose either of them for the location of your ceremony.

When you apply for the civil ceremony to take place you will be given a brochure – in French only – which tells you which documents you need for the ceremony to take place. You will only be able to bring originals or photocopies which have been authenticated. If you need documents translated then you should use only an official translator, a list of these can be obtained from the Mairie.

The Banns must be published at the Mairie 10 days prior to the civil ceremony. Your documents must be approved before the Banns can be published. Documents will include a passport, birth certificate and proof of residence. Couples no longer need to provide medical certificates. Expats may also be asked to provide proof that they are legally free to marry. Your embassy will be able to help you with this. If you have been married before you will need to provide proof of a divorce or the death of your previous partner.

The prenuptial agreement (le contrat de marriage) is becoming increasingly common in France and will clarify the terms of the marriage but should be drawn up by a notary before the civil ceremony. Those who marry without the prenuptial agreement will find that anything acquired during the marriage is considered to be joint property although anything you owned prior to the day is yours alone. The Mairie must be informed of the existence of a prenuptial agreement before the civil ceremony takes place.

The civil ceremony will be held at the Mairie of the commune and you will need between 2 and 4 witnesses. Witnesses must also provide proof of ID and be able to understand enough French to follow the ceremony without the aid of a translator. After the ceremony you will be given the ‘livret de famille’ which is an official record of the marriage and can be updated to record deaths or divorce in the future.

If you are an expat living in France and you want to get a divorce you may do so providing your main residence is in the country. Most divorces are between couples who are both living in France but if one partner is in a different country then the French judge has the right to apply foreign laws if they deem it necessary, although this is rare.

There are four different types of divorce accepted in France. The first is a divorce by mutual consent. This is simple and fast providing both parties have agreed on every aspect of the divorce and this agreement will need to be presented with the divorce petition. The second type is an accepted divorce which is when the couple have agreed to a divorce but have not agreed on the settlements and require the judge’s assistance with this. The third type is a hostile divorce when one of the couple must fight to prove that the other is responsible for the end of the marriage. The fourth type is a divorce obtained after a lengthy separation. This is usually after a minimum of 2 years.

In all but the first type of divorce there are 2 stages. Stage one is when the judge will permit the divorce, clarify child custody arrangements and any financial settlements. Stage two is for the division of assets by the notary. How long this process takes will depend upon the assets held by the couple and how easily they can agree to the arrangements.

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