Civil Unions French Style
After living in Paris for over a year – legally with the requisite cartes des séjours (legal permits authorizing residence in France), Eric Tolbert and partner, John Lutz, decided to enter into a French civil union (“pacte civil de solidarité” – PACS).
Both Americans, John working for a French organization and Eric, is a recent civilian retiree from the US Army. They had been together for 15 years, and their friends and relatives recognized them as a committed family unit — everyone except any state or government.
I tell you this story as it was told to me, omitting many of the fascinating details in the interest of simplicity, but it’s a story that illustrates what anyone can expect dealing with the French administration for all its faults and merits.
As they entered the Mairie of the 18th Arrondissement (City Hall), they were uncertain anyone would be knowledgeable of the PACS process, but without a second’s hesitation, immediately and very nicely (no frown, no giggle, no shocked raised eyebrows) the attendant directed them to an office — the Tribunal d’Instance – the office of the French judicial system that handles the “small affairs of everyday life” and litigations under 7,600 euro valuation.
The answer was “Yes,” they qualified for PACS even though neither are French citizens, just so long as they are residing in France legally. A multi-page handout described the process and necessary documentation required, none of which seemed insurmountable: birth certificates, specific papers from our home country embassy, a written contract between them (as simple or as complex as they desired), and, oh yes – the always valuable EDF/GDF (Electricité/Gaz de France) utility bill in their names as proof of French residence.
Collecting proper birth certificates, translated into French by a translator recognized by the French courts, was no simple task, but after much ado, was accomplished. This part of the story in itself could deter even the most determined, but Eric and John persevered.
There were then four mandatory forms required by French law for a PACS civil union: 1) An “Attestation de Celibat et d’Identité” for Eric, declaring that he was single; 2) an “Attestation de Non-Remariage et d’Identité for John,” attesting that he was divorced and not re-married; 3) & 4) an “Attestation Tenent Lieu de Certificat de Coutume Pour un PACS en France” for each of us stating that we intended to enter a PACS and with whom and that civil unions were not contrary to the laws of the United States.
At the U.S. Consulate, Eric and John presented their passports and documents for fixation of the embassy seals (about a 90 Euro expense) and trotted them back to the Mairie, only to discover that one document had been overlooked by the agent at the Mairie: as foreigners, they needed a document from the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris stating that a search of its database showed no existing marriage or partnership for either of them. This required another leg of the process, but once at the Tribunal, in a matter of minutes, they had the signed documents in hand.
The clock was ticking to meet the August 17th appointment set for officiating the union. In a mad rush to find a taxi, they scored and headed to the Mairie once again, just as it was closing before a holiday weekend. Employees were filing out the door, but “Madame PACS” was still at her desk. Eric and John got that familiar nauseating feeling in their guts when waiting to hear from French administrators a verdict on a submission of any paperwork.
She looked at the newest documents and disapprovingly shook her head. The form and findings from the Tribunal de Grande Instance were valid for only 30 days. The date was July 13th and they were scheduled for PACS at the Mairie on August 17th. Madame PACS sat there for a long minute in thought. Finally she asked if they would be agreeable to entering a PACS then and there on the spot if she could find anyone left in the building to officiate!
Even without consulting each other, they both blurted out a big OUI! She had the authority to waive the 30-day waiting period under extenuating circumstances which she deemed these to be. Before Madame PACS could search for an official, there remained one more piece of paper that needed quickly executed: A simple statement signed by both of them stating that they intended to continue residing in the 18th arrondissement, thereby documenting the fact that the Mairie du 18ème had legal jurisdiction to execute the matter. John whipped out a pen, wrote the statement, they both signed it and gave it to Madame. She had a look of total horror on her face — it had been written in red ink. Such a thing was just not acceptable, but seeing it was almost closing time, she set out to find an official while still shaking her head in disbelief of the red ink!
One of the things we often admire about French administration is the empowerment given to officials totally down the line to make judgment calls in interpreting and applying laws. They had been able to talk themselves successfully into and out of situations by being polite, calm and respectfully requesting an exception for this one-time to whatever law they were thought to be violating.
Madame Le Greffier, the official Clerk of the Court, called them to her desk, John apologizing for the red ink. The Madame smiled warmly and said it was “pas grave”(nothing serious). With great fan-fare she applied her official signature to finalize the process. She presented each of them with the PACS certificate, shook hands and rendered warm congratulations on behalf of the République.
As the locked doors of the Mairie were reopened to let them out, Eric wondered how many other happy couples – both gay and straight – that she had congratulated similarly. Civil Unions French Style are open not only to same-sex couples but also opposite-sex couples in lieu of traditional marriage.
In the third year of PACS, John’s French taxes will reduce 50% and Eric will become eligible for the French healthcare and social security systems by
virtue of his French employee status. An immediate benefit also is that Eric qualifies for 12 free annual passages, as John always has, on the French railroad system as a spousal benefit due to his employment by a railroad entity. Undoubtedly there are other immediate benefits that will unfold over time.
Erica and John departed the Mairie thankful to the French bureaucracy! At last — Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité, imprinted atop almost every Government building since the 1789 French Revolution, truly has been attained by these two Americans in Paris.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]
P.S. Today’s property picks feature apartments in “gay friendly” arrondissements — the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, although PACS is as much for any
P.P.S. Your next Parler Paris will be coming from a different sender named [email protected] Please update your “white listing” rules if you have any. Thank you.
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