Destination weddings: sun, sea and blood tests

Destination weddings continue to soar in popularity, with more couples than ever shunning wet weekends in Britain in favour of sunnier climes.

Tying the knot abroad can be less costly, but planning your Big Day from afar can be daunting. In the midst of travel arrangements, wedding party politics and balancing budgets, legal obligations can be overlooked.

Law firm, JMW Solicitors, has seen a spike in calls from couples querying the legal status of their marriage following weddings abroad – however, often the error isn’t uncovered until the couple decide to divorce.

Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger’s exotic marriage in Bali was famously found to be invalid – the priest who officiated the ceremony did not receive the necessary legal documents, there had only been one witness, and a letter of authority hadn’t been received from the British consul.

Katie Lowe, Partner at JMW Solicitors, said: “Year-on-year, we see an increase in calls from couples with issues relating to weddings abroad. It’s not unusual for couples to have a wonderful destination wedding, entirely under the impression that their union is legal, until their relationship fails months or years down the line and, upon investigation, it turns out they were never married at all. It understandably comes as quite a shock.

“Along with documents and paperwork, some countries do have very specific rules which can be somewhat left-field – make sure you do your research well in advance to make sure you are comfortable with the conditions.”

If you’re jetting off to Mexico, don’t forget the blood tests – bride and groom will need blood tests at a Mexican hospital before the wedding. And don’t forget to bring your nearest and dearest – you’ll need four witnesses!

Off to France for a laid-back soiree? One wedding won’t be sufficient – if you’re set on a religious ceremony, but don’t have a civil wedding beforehand, your marriage won’t be legal on returning to the UK.

You’ll also want to check the residency rules – in St Lucia, you’re free to go from plane to ceremony, yet In Croatia and Cyprus you must spend 3 days in the country before the wedding can take place legally. In Thailand, you’re required to spend 4 days in Bangkok, while in Greece you’ll need to jump through more hoops before you can go ahead and wed, displaying your notice in the register office for 28 days – you can collect your CNI, a document proving you’re both able to marry, after this provided no-one objects.

In Italy – a consistent favourite – residency is between 4 and 7 days depending on the local rules. However, if you’re female and have been divorced or widowed in the last 300 days, you won’t be permitted to marry.

While the majority of weddings conducted abroad aren’t religious ceremonies, you may still be asked to swear an affirmation, which is a religious oath. In Turkey, you can ask to sign an alternative document, but make sure it’s black ink only, otherwise it won’t be considered valid.

Even when rules and customs are followed to the tee, failure to safeguard or translate documents can also cause serious issues further down the line. Katie explained, “People often don’t get a certified copy of their marriage certificate on returning to the UK, assuming all the legal legwork has been done prior to the wedding. The GRO will need to register it, which cannot be done if the original copy has been lost.

“Where copies are lost, it’s very difficult to get hold of new versions – without them, those who are wanting to divorce will find it difficult to move on.

“There are solutions to these issues, but it does complicate matters, creating more stress and upset at an already difficult time. If you’re getting married abroad, seek legal advice beforehand to make sure that the necessary requirements have been met – it could save an awful lot of heartache.”