THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY
Over a year ago; whilst living and working in London, we decided to get married in the South of France. This is where Sarah grew up and it was a dream of hers to get married amongst the vineyards and lavender fields of Provence – little did we know the complications of actually getting married in France.
Unlike in England, civil weddings in France can only be conducted at the local town hall (La Mairie or Hôtel de Ville) and these will always be carried out French – this meant that we were unable to be ‘officially’ married at our chosen venue – Chateau de Robernier.
To be eligible to get married at the local town hall; you will need to be resident in the town for at least a month or your parents will need to be resident (a proof of address will be required such as a residency card or bank statement). When initially planning our wedding we were living in the UK and therefore we planned to have the official ceremony at the local UK town hall and then have a ‘celebration ceremony’ in the South of France at the Chateau – this is very popular amongst couples seeking destination weddings due to the difficulty (or impossibility) in getting married abroad. By coincidence we relocated to Monaco, with our previous jobs, 6 months before we were due to be wed. As such we were able to be married at the Monaco Mairie the day before our celebration at the Chateau.
Civil weddings in France can either be a straightforward marriage agreement or you can go to a notary to have a marriage contract prepared (i.e. Pre-nuptial agreement). We decided to get married under standard UK law – although all the documents were still written in French.
All the documents required by La Mairie must be written in French or translated by a recognized translator (these can easily be found on the Internet – ‘interprète’). Being English, the majority of our documentation (birth certificate, passport etc) was written in English, therefore we paid a local translator €90 to translate our documents and this was done within 24 hours. La Mairie also require some documentation to be less than 3 months old – in Monaco for example we had to reorder birth certificates so that they were issued within the last 3 months (although we never understood the reasoning since no birth information had changed). Additionally, they may require a letter from your government of origin stating you are not already married and confirming whether you had been previously married. For this we simply wrote to the English consulate in Paris and this was provided within a few weeks. All in all, civil weddings in France or Monaco are quite heavy on the administrative side but this could be seen as reflective of the culture in France.
A FRENCH CIVIL WEDDING
Before our marriage we were a little apprehensive as to how formal a civil wedding in France would be (having previously attended a French wedding at a town hall) as this overly formal approach and the strict rules upon wedding venues can null any romance that is in the air. However, through discussion with the town hall organisers we were able to have a romantic reading by the officiant (in French). The Monegasque official was actually a lovely man who brought his own twist to the ceremony and seemed so pleased to marry two people.
In addition, as a congratulations gift, the Monaco Mairie gave us a beautiful red livret de famille (family book) to record your family details in and add in children’s details (up to 8 of them!!) and a glass blown wine stopper. This was such a lovely surprise, especially considering that the cost of the ceremony was so cheap – €9.
Generally the cost of a civil wedding in France is quite low, ranging from €5 to €50. So unlikely to take a huge dent out of your overall wedding budget.
As you may have already gathered, it is very difficult to get legally married in France, especially if you are a UK resident. For this reason most couples will have their ‘official’ marriage ceremony in the UK and then the marriage celebration event in their desired location. It is also fairly popular for French couples to have a separate marriage celebration ceremony in another location.
To maintain the romantic feel that is so important to a wedding, many couples will conduct a ‘faux’ ceremony at their celebration. This allows you to walk down the aisle, exchange vows and rings and ‘kiss the bride’ all at the time and location of your choice and in front of all of your guests. This can be done by hiring a celebrant and often most people will not even have realised that the celebrant isn’t even officially marrying the couple.
At our ‘official’ marriage at the Mairie we only had a very small number of guests with the majority of guests attending our celebration the following day at Chateau De Robernier where we conducted our own faux ceremony with a celebrant. We followed this approach as we really wanted to get married at the Chateau. It worked really well with only a few people knowing that the Chateau celebration wasn’t actually official, the celebrant even got us to sign a register. It therefore it did not detract from any of the emotion – there were still tears of joy.
There are a number of English celebrants available for weddings in the South of France and each one will personalise the ceremony to your liking.
Often the first meeting will be to understand how you both met, what kind of ceremony and wedding you are looking for. This would then be followed by individual questionnaires. The celebrant would then write the ceremony based on these questionnaires and discussions. The celebrant can in some cases also include rituals such as a wine ceremony, a candle ceremony or just about anything else that you would want.
We used a lady named Celia Drummond, she was excellent and allowed us to construct our own vows that were fairly short – to the pleasure of most guests (we were married outside in 38 degree heat). Celia was lovely and had a beautiful warm and friendly voice – we later discovered that she had actually recorded the ‘mind the gap’ notice used on the London Underground.