Family Law

Is Our Marriage Valid in Every Country?

By Amy Castillo, J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law
Is my marriage legally recognized in other countries around the world?

There are several reasons why you may be wondering whether your marriage will be considered valid in various locations. Maybe you were married in another country, and you want to know if your marriage will be recognized in the United States. Or you want to know if a foreign country will recognize your U.S. marriage because you plan to work abroad with your family for several years. Continue reading to learn more about the basics of marriage recognition.

Americans Who Married Abroad

According to the U.S. Department of State, marriages performed abroad are locally valid marriages, provided that they comply with all applicable laws of the foreign city, state, and country where they take place. For example, if you marry in the Bahamas, your marriage will be legally recognized there as long as you met all the marriage requirements under Bahamian law.

Examples of legal requirements you might have to complete include:

  • submitting to blood tests
  • satisfaction of the minimum age of consent to marry
  • providing parental consent (for younger partners)
  • providing documents, like death or divorce certificates, that prove all previous relationships have ended and that are authenticated and translated into the local language
  • satisfaction of any residency requirements, and
  • completion of an affidavit of eligibility to marry.

As you can see, many of these legal requirements mirror the sorts of things you’d be asked to do if you wanted to marry in many American states.

Turning to the question of whether a valid foreign marriage will be recognized in the United States is more complicated. There’s no clear, black or white way to predict which marriages are valid or invalid. If you broke no local laws by entering into your marriage abroad, it’s far more likely that your marriage will be legally recognizable in America. But to be sure, you should contact the United States Embassy in the country where you were married.

American Marriages and Other Countries

The question of whether a valid American marriage will be recognized in foreign country is also complex. If you have questions, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area and possibly an attorney in the foreign country where you wish to have your marriage recognized.

You can also check this link to the websites of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions, select the country that interests you, and write or telephone until you have more information about whether your American marriage enjoys solid legal footing in that country.

One thing to note, if you have a common law marriage, is that many countries—especially European nations—may not recognize your relationship. Many of these countries have recently outlawed these types of marriages within their own borders. If you want your common law marriage to be recognized worldwide, make sure to contact the appropriate ambassador, consulate, diplomat, and/or attorney for assistance.

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