Marriage & divorce in Spain

All you need to know when getting married

Marriage & divorce in Spain

Despite the falling number of marriages and church attendances in Spain, a church wedding with all the trimmings remains the dream of most Spanish girls. Marriage bureaux are common in cities and online agencies popular throughout Spain, with applicants to meet an unlimited number of prospective partners.

Surprisingly, nearly 70 per cent of Spaniards up to the age of 30 live with their parents, although prohibitively high property prices in many regions are partly responsible for this.

To be married in a Roman Catholic church in Spain at least one partner must be Roman Catholic; a divorcee isn’t permitted to marry in a Spanish church if the previous marriage was solemnised in church. A certificate of baptism is required plus a declaration from your former parish priest that you’re a Roman Catholic and are free to marry. You receive a certificate from the priest, which must be presented within one week to the local civil registry in order to obtain an official marriage certificate.

Couples also receive a ‘family book’ ( libro de familia) when they marry, which is the official registration of a couple and their children. It’s necessary for children to present this when they apply for their own identity card, social security card and when they marry or divorce (or when someone dies).

In order for two non-Catholic foreigners to marry in Spain, one must have lived (and have been domiciled) in Spain for at least two years. Marriages are held at Spanish civil registry offices and are presided over by a judge (church weddings for non-Catholics in Spain aren’t legally recognised). If you’re divorced or widowed, you must produce an official divorce or death certificate. A divorced person requires a legal declaration ( certificado de ley) drawn up by a lawyer and legalised by a Spanish consul in the country of origin.

Some foreigners find it easier to get married abroad, e.g. Britons and Americans can get married in Gibraltar, where couples are married in a registry office in front of two witnesses. Many foreigners can also be married at their country’s embassy in Spain.

Homosexual Marriages

Since July 2005, homosexual couples have had the right to marry (Spain is one of the few countries in the world to allow this) and therefore enjoy the same rights as heterosexual married couples. Some 4,500 homosexual couples got married in registry offices during the first year (representing less than 1 per cent of the total marriages). In September 2005, the main opposition party, the Partido Popular, presented an appeal against the law before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the Spanish Constitution permits marriage only between men and women. Legal experts are divided on whether the appeal will be successful or not.

Common-law Partners

Unmarried couples (including homosexuals) can register their union at a special registry in many towns and receive a formal certificate allowing them to claim social security and benefit from life insurance policies. However, common-law partners generally have no property rights in Spain and are treated as unrelated individuals if they don’t have official documentation . The regions of Andalusia, Aragón, Balearics, Basque Lands, Catalonia, Madrid and Navarra recognise common-law partners if they’re officially registered for tax and inheritance purposes and there have been several highly-publicised court cases where common-law partners’ rights have been recognised.


New divorce legislation, designed to make divorce by mutual consent quicker and easier, was approved in 2005. Under the legislation (known as divorcio directo), a couple wishing to divorce must have been married for a minimum of three months (less if there’s domestic violence), neither party needs to present any grounds for divorce and there’s no minimum period of separation required beforehand. If the couple have children, they can agree to have equal custody of the children. The paperwork is relatively straightforward and the services of a lawyer shouldn’t be required. A divorce in court is only necessary if the parties cannot agree on the terms of the divorce or the divorce isn’t by mutual consent.

Foreigners who were married abroad can be divorced in Spain and only one of the partners need be a resident.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: