Maryse Charton was born 15 August 1942 in Toulon, France. Her parents were both Communists, and her father was Maurice Thorez's bodyguard. She worked for the Social Security in France and volunteered as a young communist. She then received a BA degree from the University of the South, Toulon-Var followed by a master's degree and a PhD from Aix-Marseille University.
She subsequently taught criminology and private law at Aix-Marseille University. In 1968 she married Alain Joissains. In 1970 she started her career as a lawyer. She worked in the cases of the Infected blood scandal and the use of asbestos. It was also then that she became a follower of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, and joined the Radical Party.
From 1983 to 1989, she served as a member of the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. She has been the Mayor of Aix-en-Provence since 2001. She signed a law criminalizing drunkenness in public, a move aimed at the area's homeless people. In 2009, her re-election was invalidated by a former councilor, Stéphane Salord, under the assumption that allegations spread about her opponent François-Xavier de Peretti were too personal and violent. Nevertheless, she was re–elected. In June 2011, she voted against same-sex marriage. She has been accused of not attending the sessions in the National Assembly of France. However, she responded by saying she was in attendance once a month. She is among the French politicians who hold the most elected positions at different levels of government. She is a recipient of the Legion of Honour.
Shortly after François Hollande was elected President in 2012, she suggested that he might be "illegitimate", arguing that the entire French media and labor unions supported him and unfairly criticized Nicolas Sarkozy's tenure, and she asked the Constitutional Council of France to annul the election results; however, she was rebuffed.
Her former husband, Alain Joissains, served as the Mayor of Aix-en-Provence from 1978 to 1983. Now divorced, their daughter Sophie Joissains is a member of the French Senate.