Couples have two options if they want to tie the knot in Paris: a legal marriage ceremony or a symbolic one. Only a civil marriage officiated by a mayor or deputy mayor constitutes a legal union in France. Getting married in a civil ceremony, whether you're a foreigner or a French citizen, takes a willingness to meet a 40-day residency requirement and assemble a dossier of documents and certificates. However, you can avoid this red tape by getting legally married at home then having a second religious or a symbolic ceremony in Paris.
Preliminary Legwork -- Civil Ceremony
A visit to the "office de mariages" – office of marriages -- at the town hall of the Parisian district, or arrondissement, in which you or you partner have lived at least 40 consecutive days comes before setting a wedding date when you get legally married in France. The "mairie," or mayor's office, will give you a "Se marier à Paris" folder containing the list of documents your arrondissement requires. Only after you both present a complete set of documents and the mairie posts the marriage bans, or notice of your intent to marry, for 10 days, can you pick a date that falls within 12 months of the post-bans period.
The list of documents your mairie requires is in French and the needed documents must be less than three months old. Delaying your ceremony three months past the mairie's authorization, however, may require more recent birth certificate copies. In addition to the marriage application and photo identification, typical paperwork includes proof of residency in the form of utility bills or a lease, birth certificates with an apostille and translated by an approved translator, and information on the two witnesses you must have. You get apostilles, which are internationally accepted verifications of authenticity, from your state's department of state. The form used to confirm that you are eligible to marry, the "Attestation tenant lieu de certificat de coutume et de célibat," must be notarized at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Divorcees and widows or widowers should expect to present legal proof of their marital status. According to IntimateWeddings.com, this paperwork can cost roughly $450 before taxes, although it's paid in euros.
Wedding Day Expectations
The mairie may perform weddings during certain times on certain days, such as 10 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays, with openings scheduled at 20-minute intervals. The "salle de marriage," or wedding room, where the mairie or his deputy officiates your ceremony in French, is an open public room, so you could watch a few ceremonies before yours to know what to expect. You may want to hire an interpreter if you or your guests don't speak French. You can exchange rings, or wait until your second ceremony to do so. Both of you and your witnesses sign the wedding register after the vows. Before leaving, you get a family record book called the "livret de famille." You pick up your marriage certificate from the mairie a few days later. If you plan to have a religious ceremony afterward, you must present this certificate or your livret.
Parisian Symbolic Ceremony
You can have a romantic ceremony in the City of Lights and avoid dealing with French paperwork by getting legally married stateside. Symbolic and religious weddings are not legally recognized; the priest, rabbi or minister who performs your wedding must see a copy of your marriage certificate before conducting the ceremony. You each also need a letter from your parish priest, baptism certificate and confirmation certificate to marry in one of Paris's Catholic churches. An officiant for a secular ceremony doesn't require legal proof of your marriage, so you could have a ceremony at home after you walk down the aisle in Paris. Symbolic weddings can take place at venues throughout Paris, including gardens, courtyards and historic hotels, but excluding national public monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.