Learn to navigate an overseas marriage

by the 86th Airlift Wing
Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

Getting married is probably one of the most important life decisions one can make. The mere thought of marriage can conjure both excitement and stress for the prospective couple, and getting married overseas can feel like an equally daunting task. However, when equipped with the right information, an overseas marriage can be easier to navigate than expected.

Military members frequently seek information on marriage laws. Within the United States, state law determines who may marry, when and under what circumstances. Much like in the U.S., marriage overseas is a function of civil authority and is, therefore, also dictated by the respective nation’s laws.
In general, members may choose to wed anywhere in the world provided they meet the requirements of that nation’s jurisdiction. In most cases, this involves a certain waiting period to establish residency. In Denmark, for example, the waiting period is only a few days, while other countries may be significantly longer.

Regardless of the location, one should expect to furnish documentation that may take weeks to process. Thus, one must exercise due diligence when choosing the marriage locale, because administrative requirements must be satisfied prior to a religious or other type of ceremony, if so desired.
Assuming one complies with the applicable laws of where the marriage takes place, the U.S. will usually recognize the marriage. Notwithstanding, one should verify the marriage’s acceptance through their legal state of residency attorney general’s office.

The following points offer additional information on the subject:

American diplomatic and consular officers are not permitted to perform marriages (Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations 52.1). As a rule, marriages cannot be performed on the premises of an American embassy or consulate. A local (foreign) civil or religious official will usually perform marriages abroad.

The embassy or tourist information bureau of the country in which the marriage will take place can provide the most accurate information about marriage laws and procedures. Additionally, the Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Services can provide general information on marriage in a limited number of countries. Lastly, American embassies and consulates abroad frequently have information about marriage in their respective countries.

Most countries require a member present a valid U.S. passport. In addition, most countries also require birth certificates and divorce decrees. Some countries also require the consular official of the U.S. to authenticate the documents presented. This process can be time-consuming and expensive.

Some countries require proof of legal capacity to enter into a marriage contract. This is usually in the form of a certification by competent authority that no impediment exists to the marriage. If this is not possible, the prospective couple will need to execute an affidavit that certifies that no such impediment exists. This affidavit may be executed for a fee at the American embassy or consulate in the country where the marriage will take place.

The marriage package that the passport office provides also includes affidavits. This type of affidavit has been accepted by local (foreign) civil and religious officials. Make sure this document is properly filled out, and stop by your local base legal office for a notarization, which is free (legal assistance eligibility is subject to status).

Information on obtaining a visa for a foreign spouse may be obtained from any office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, or the Department of State’s Visa Office. General information regarding visas may be obtained by calling the visa office at 202-663-1225.

The following websites provide more information:
• www.state.gov
• http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/abroad/events-and-records/marriage.html
• www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis

In Germany, only a marriage performed at a registrar’s office (Standesamt) is considered legally valid. The 786th Force Support Squadron Passport Office offers a “Marriage in Germany” information package, which lists the mandatory requirements and documents that members will need to provide to the Standesamt.

The following are a few of the required documents:
• Birth certificates with certified translation if the certificates are not in German.
• Proof of citizenship. Passport or, in case of service members, a statement of citizenship. Military ID-card is not acceptable.
• Authorization to marry from a commanding officer (see AFI 36-2609).
• Certificate of Registration (Anmeldenachweis) will be required if the intended spouse is not German or a command sponsored U.S. national. This is a written statement from the local resident registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) that the foreigner is properly registered.

There may be slight variations in the processing at the individual Standesämter in Germany. As a first step, American citizens are urged to consult the registrar at the Standesamt in the city or town where they wish to get married. They should keep in mind that they will need to translate all documents they wish to submit from English (or any other language) to German. Depending on the number of documents a member needs to translate, this process may require time and money.
For more information, visit http://germany.usembassy.gov/acs/getting_married.