Planning a Destination Wedding? How to Make Sure Your Marriage Is Legal in the U.S.

It’s not hard to see why destination weddings are so popular. Getting married abroad is romantic and adventurous. It’s a chance to live out your wedding fantasy—whether it’s getting married like royalty in a medieval castle or barefoot on a white sand beach.

A destination wedding is a vacation and a wedding rolled into one, with your most cherished friends and family members present.

Wedding couple holding hands on a beach.

There’s a lot more to planning a destination wedding than booking a venue and making travel arrangements, though. If you plan to tie the knot in another country, you need to make sure you understand and comply with the rules and requirements of that country and your own. A family law attorney can help.

Here are some important things to know about getting married overseas.

The U.S. doesn’t recognize all marriages performed abroad.

Marriage is a declaration of love, but it’s also a legally binding agreement. Laws vary by country.

In general, marriages that abide by the laws of the country where you get married are considered legally valid in the U.S.—but not always. You’ll need to check with the attorney general’s office in the state where you live to determine whether your marriage abroad will be recognized. The attorney general’s office will tell you which steps you’ll need to take to make your marriage valid.

Some countries have a residency requirement.

Some countries require you to establish legal residence for a specific number of days or months in order to get married there. Let’s look at France as an example.

French law requires that you 1) reside in the country for at least 40 days in order to have a legal marriage ceremony or 2) have family ties in France that you can prove, such as a parent(s) who lives in the country. In either case, you must provide documentation, including:

  • Passport
  • Recently issued birth certificate (must have been issued less than six months prior to marriage date in the U.S. or less than three months prior to marriage date in France)
  • Proof of address (e.g., rental agreement, utility bill)
  • Proof of nationality
  • Proof of divorce/death certificate if previously married
  • Information about witnesses (of a civil marriage ceremony)
  • Certificat de Coutume from U.S. embassy

To get married in France you must have a civil ceremony in a town hall (mairie), after which you can have your own secular or religious ceremony.

If you don’t want to become a resident and don’t have a parent living in France, you’ll need a special dispensation (exception) to get married in the country, but these are rarely issued.

Another option is to get married in the U.S. (at your local city hall, for example), and then have a symbolic ceremony in France with all the bells and whistles.

There’s more to it than this, but you get the idea—there’s a lot to figure out when planning a wedding abroad.

Wedded couple in front of large mansion.

Some countries require an affidavit proving you’re eligible to get married.

This document attests that previous legal relationships (e.g., marriages) have ended, either through divorce or death. Divorce and death certificates must be translated into the local language and authenticated.

No agency or organization in the U.S. issues this kind of document, so you must obtain it at an American embassy or at your regional consulate office (the diplomatic office for the country where you want to get married).

An embassy or consulate office will not attest to your marital status, but they will notarize the document with your statement of eligibility to get married; most countries will accept a notarized document from an embassy or consulate office.

Some countries require blood tests.

Premarital blood tests check for things like venereal disease, genetic diseases, and rubella. Some countries, including Mexico and Haiti, require both partners to get premarital blood tests. It’s possible to be denied a marriage license if you or your partner test positive for certain diseases, depending on where you want to get married. Or, you may be required to disclose the test results to your partner.

Blood tests are also required in a few places in the U.S., including Montana, New York, and the District of Columbia. 

Bride and groom kneeling in front of priest at church.

Laws vary by country for religious ceremonies.

In most countries, a local official (civil or religious) performs marriage ceremonies. If you plan to have a religious marriage in another country, you may have to obtain specific documents to get married there.  

For example, in Spain, nonresidents are eligible to be married in a Catholic church only if they obtain a nihil obstat. It’s basically a clearance document stating that the bishop of the couple’s home church gives the okay for the couple to marry at a Catholic church overseas.

You may need parental consent.

The legal age to get married varies by country. As a general rule, most people under age 18 must have a written statement of consent signed by a parent(s) before a notary public. Some countries also require that you get the statement authenticated at a consular office for the country where you want to get married.

There’s more than meets the eye when planning a destination wedding. Marriage is a contract of sorts, and each country has different requirements. If you have your heart set on a wedding abroad, make sure you understand the rules and requirements for obtaining a marriage license in the country where you plan to have your wedding. It’s a good idea to have a plan B (and C) in case the red tape becomes too cumbersome in your first country of choice.

Get Legal Help Planning Your Marriage Abroad

Your wedding is too important to leave to chance. The last thing you want is to discover your marriage isn’t legally valid once you return from your honeymoon. The experienced family law attorneys at Joseph A. Ledwidge P.C. can help you understand the legalities of getting married abroad.

We can guide you through the process to ensure your paperwork is filed accurately and documents are properly translated. Most importantly, we can give you peace of mind during the already stressful process of planning the perfect destination wedding.

Contact us online or by phone at 718-276-6656 to arrange a no-obligation consultation with an experienced New York family law attorney. We serve clients throughout the New York metro area including Queens, NY, Jamaica, NY, and Brooklyn, NY.

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