More couples than ever are gathering their nearest and dearest for sun-soaked destination weddings – yet planning your big day from afar can be daunting, and legal obligations are often overlooked.
Katie Lowe, partner at UK-based law firm JMW Solicitors, says: “Year-on-year, we see an increase in calls from couples with issues relating to weddings abroad. They’ve had a wonderful wedding before eventually finding out they were never married at all.” To ensure your wedding is more bona fide than bogus, make sure these boxes are ticked.
Gathering the right legal documents can feel like a chore, but make sure you’re clear on the paperwork you need before booking your wedding. The rules differ considerably between regions, with some more onerous than others.
Don’t leave it to your wedding planner to make sure you’ve dotted the Is and crossed the Ts – it’s not uncommon for couples to be married without the right paperwork in place. Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger’s exotic marriage in Bali is a famous example. It was claimed the priest who officiated the ceremony did not receive the right legal documents, there had only been one witness, and a letter of authority hadn’t been received from the British consul.
If you’re jetting off to Mexico, don’t forget to arrange blood tests; both the bride and groom will need blood tests at a Mexican hospital before the wedding, witnessed by four people. Lowe advises: “Along with documents and paperwork, some countries do have very specific rules that can be somewhat left field. Make sure you do your research well in advance to make sure you are comfortable with the conditions.”
Those planning on heading straight down the aisle could find they need to spend some time in the country before saying, “I do.” In Croatia and Cyprus, for example, the couple must spend three days in the country before the wedding can take place legally. In Thailand, you’re required to spend four days in Bangkok.
Even more planning is required in Greece, where documents must be obtained from the local registrar at least 28 days in advance, and Italy has a few strange regulations: if you’re female and have been divorced or widowed in the last 300 days, you won’t be permitted to marry.
Gathering the right paperwork is just the beginning; you’ll also need documents to be translated, including birth certificates, passports, and a decree absolute if either of you are divorced. Make sure you have this done well in advance to avoid delays.
Make sure you keep marriage documents safe to avoid issues further down the line. Lowe says: “People often don’t get a certified copy of their marriage certificate upon returning to their country of residence, assuming all the legal legwork has been done prior to the wedding. It will need to be registered, which cannot be done if the original copy has been lost.
Where copies are lost, it’s very difficult to get hold of new versions – and without them, those who are wanting to divorce will find it difficult to move on. If you’re getting married abroad, seek legal advice beforehand to make sure that the necessary requirements have been met – it could save an awful lot of heartache.”