Destination Weddings: Is Your Marriage Legal?

Getting married amongst sandy coastal beaches in the Caribbean, or under a canopy of roses at the French Chateau, or even atop a mountain in New Zealand may sound heavenly -- but you'll need to check the local (foreign) laws of the country to make sure your marriage is legal when you return to the states.

Like U.S. marriage laws, foreign marriage laws vary among locations. Most countries require proof of a valid U.S. passport, birth certificate or other proof of residency before a foreign marriage may take place. Many countries also require blood and/or medical tests to be completed by the parties. Some countries (like France) require one or both parties to have resided in their country for a set period of time prior to a marriage. Therefore, because the rules vary greatly, it is necessary to check the foreign marriage laws of the country of interest to avoid any lengthy and costly mistakes.

Below is helpful information for U.S. citizens seeking to marry abroad.

Validity of Marriages Abroad

In general, marriages which are legally performed and valid abroad are also legally valid in the United States. Inquiries regarding the validity of a marriage abroad should be directed to their attorney general of the state in the United States where you live.

Who May Perform Marriages Abroad

American diplomatic and consular officers are NOT permitted to perform marriages. Marriages abroad are almost always performed by local (foreign) civil or religious officials.

As a rule, marriages are not performed on the premises of an American embassy or consulate. The validity of marriages abroad is not dependent upon the presence of an American diplomatic or consular officer, but upon adherence to the laws of the country where the marriage is performed. Consular officers may authenticate foreign marriage documents. The fee for authentication of a document is $32.00.

Foreign Laws and Procedures

The embassy or tourist information bureau of the country in which the marriage is to be performed is the best source of information about marriage in that country. In addition, American embassies and consulates abroad frequently have information about marriage in the country in which they are located.

Residence Requirements

Marriages abroad are subject to the residency requirements of the country in which the marriage is to be performed. There is almost always a lengthy waiting period.

Documentation and Authentication

Most countries require that a valid U.S. passport be presented. In addition, birth certificates, divorce decrees, and death certificates are frequently required. Some countries require that the documents presented to the marriage registrar first be authenticated in the United States by a consular official of that country. This process can be time consuming and expensive.

Parental Consent

The age of majority for marriage varies from one country to another. Persons under the age of 18 must, as a general rule, present a written statement of consent executed by their parents before a notary public. Some countries require the parental consent statement to be authenticated by a consular official of that foreign country in the United States.

Affidavit of Eligibility to Marry

All civil law countries require proof of legal capacity to enter into a marriage contract in the form of certification by competent authority that no impediment exists to the marriage. No such document exists in the United States. Unless the foreign authorities will allow such a statement to be executed before one of their consular officials in the United States, it will be necessary for the parties to a prospective marriage abroad to execute an affidavit at the American embassy or consulate in the country in which the marriage will occur stating that they are free to marry.

This is called an affidavit of eligibility to marry and the fee for the American consular officer's certification of the affidavit is $55.00, subject to change. As an example, the U.S. Consulate's Office in Barcelona, Spain provides detailed instructions for obtaining this affidavit of eligibility. Some countries also require witnesses who will execute affidavits to the effect that the parties are free to marry.

Additional Requirements

Many countries, like the United States, require blood tests.

Some countries require that documents presented to the marriage registrar be translated into the native language of that country.

Loss of U.S. Nationality

In some countries, marriage to a national of that country will automatically make the spouse either a citizen of that country or eligible to become naturalized in that country expeditiously. The automatic acquisition of a second nationality will not affect U.S. citizenship. However, naturalization in a foreign country on one's own application or the application of a duly authorized agent may cause the loss of American citizenship. Persons planning to apply for a foreign nationality should contact an American embassy or consulate for further information.

Marriage to an Alien

Information on obtaining a visa for a foreign spouse may be obtained from any office of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, or the Department of State Visa Office, Washington, DC 20520-0113. General information regarding visas may be obtained by calling the Visa Office on 202-663-1225.

Get Legal Help With Your Questions About Destination Weddings

Tying the knot in a vacation paradise is a great way to start a marriage. However, it won't be as blissful an experience if your marriage isn't recognized when you get back home. Before you book your wedding, it wouldn't hurt to speak with a family law attorney in your area to make sure that you won't have any legal headaches with your destination wedding.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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