Are Destination Weddings Legal?

Posted September 26, 2012 in Your Family & The Law by

In general, marriages which are legally performed and valid abroad are also legally valid in the United States

Thinking of getting married on the honeymoon instead of before it? More and more couples are choosing to tie the knot in exotic locations. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering joining them.

“In general, marriages which are legally performed and valid abroad are also legally valid in the United States,” according to the U.S. Department of State. The trick is to make sure you’re following the laws of the state or country where you’re getting married. Do your research.


Research the Paperwork

Residency requirements are the most common issue. In many countries, both partners must have been physically in the country for a certain amount of time before you can get married. Waiting periods vary; in some jurisdictions you can get married right away, but in others you may have to stick around for up to a month.

But pay attention to other requirements, such as satisfying documentation and authentication requirements. Even in a country like Greece, where there is no waiting period, the “bureaucratic procedure” you must complete may take weeks. Most countries require valid U.S. passports, as well as birth certificates and other documents to prove you are eligible to marry.

In fact, according to the Department of State, in “all civil law countries” (see a list here), you have to get a certification that there are no legal roadblocks to your entering into a marriage contract. Some foreign authorities provide for their own consulates to execute such a certification here in the states – so you could do this before you leave the country – but others require you to be in the destination country, so you’d need to go to the American embassy there, where the fee to get an affidavit of eligibility to marry is $55.00.

Who marries you? You can’t get married at the American embassy; a local civil (or religious) official will do the job. Different countries require different numbers of witnesses, too.

Age requirements also vary by country, but as a general rule if you’re under 18, you’ll need to bring along a notarized written consent from your parents. Depending on the country, this statement might need to be authenticated, as noted above.

Then there are other possible requirements, such as blood tests, chest x-rays (required in Mexico), or translation of documents that you must present to the marriage registrar. There will also, of course, be fees to pay (and airfare!), but nowhere near the $30,000 average cost of a wedding in the United States.


Destination Divorce?

It does rain in paradise every so often, so it might not be a bad idea to consider what will happen if your beautifully-begun marriage doesn’t work out. This can get complicated, and the advice of an attorney will likely be necessary.

If you want to get divorced back in the states, you’ll be able to: all states in the United States allow you to get a divorce, even if you were married in a foreign country. You will have to first prove your marriage was legal in that country, attaching all the necessary evidence including certificates or other documentation with your divorce petition.

Joshua Ben

“As long as you were legally married you can file for divorce in the United States,” confirms attorney Joshua Ben. “You will still need to meet the residency requirements of the state you live in.”

“The place where the marriage is registered does not determine jurisdiction,” adds J. Richard Kulerski. “It is where the parties reside that counts.”

J. Richard Kulerski

You may want to go for a destination divorce, though, heading back to the jurisdiction where you tied the knot, if the laws there make it easier. But again, this can get tricky, and you’ll need to do your homework, or better yet, consult a lawyer.

“A divorce decree issued in a foreign country generally is recognized in a state in the United States on the basis of comity, provided both parties to the divorce received adequate notice, i.e., service of process and, generally, provided one of the parties was a domiciliary in the foreign nation at the time of the divorce,” according to certified divorce coach Cathy Meyer.


If you’re considering getting married (or divorced) in a foreign country, contact a family lawyer on

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