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The Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PACS) is a legal alternative to marriage in France, also recognised for same-sex couples. It is a civil partnership which gives rights and obligations to both partners.
The Pacte Civil de Solidarité affords some of the legal benefits of traditional marriage. It gives rights to both partners particularly in regard to "mutual and material" assistance, for example in the event of unemployment or illness.
Essentially it is a contract made between two people (never more) of either sex. Both partners must be aged 18 or over and must have a common place of residence (although not necessarily live together). French nationality is not required by parties signing a pact, but a foreigner must be legally resident in France. (PACS may also be conducted at a French Consulate elsewhere is the world, but in that case one of the partners must be a French citizen).
PACS does not confer citizenship or residency on a foreign partner however it is considered to be proof of a "personal connection" to France and is therefore taken into account when applying for residency.
Civil partnerships registered elsewhere in the world, including the UK, are recognised in France. However there are some restrictions - the foreign civil partnership may not contradict French law and there are still limitations on factors including succession rights and the right to adopt.
It is strongly recommended that couples already in a foreign civil union who own or plan to buy property in France, or hold other assets, seek legal advice with regards to tax and inheritance law.