Marry again in the U.S. or transfer the marriage?
October 18, 2010 4:06 AM   Subscribe

Is it easier / better to marry my Spanish wife again in New York or register our Spanish marriage with the U.S. Embassy in Spain? (we live in Spain). More inside....

I am American and my wife is Spanish. We live in Spain with her two children (from a previous marriage). We got married in Spain last year and are officially recognized as such here but I have not yet done anything about making that status official to the U.S.

I travel to the U.S. often and she comes about once a year. We're about to have a baby together so I want to make sure everything is straight and I'm exploring options.

The first option is to just do everything through the U.S. embassy here. I know this will entail mounds of paperwork plus needing to get my wife background check papers from the police etc.. the fewer spanish bureaucracies I have to deal with, the better.

The second option is to go to city hall in new york and get married there. This was suggested to us by someone else. The assumption there is that it would require less hassle? But I don't know what the implications are. Is it really easier?

Lastly, I'm not sure exactly what kind of status I would be asking for her. I know that if they issue her a green card, she has to come to the U.S. at least once every 6 months and its quite possible that won't happen. But I don't want her to just be a tourist every time she comes either and have no rights. Is there some kind of in between status??

Thanks in advance for any advice.
posted by postergeist to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It took me a second to parse what you're asking here - you're staying in Spain, right? There is no such thing as 'getting your marriage recognised' in the US. You're married, end of story. Your question actually appears to be about visiting the US.

For those purposes, your wife will enter under a standard 90 day Visa Waiver Programme entry visa. At passport control, she should be able to come through the US Resident line with you, rather than splitting up, but you should check this is okay with a DHS officer before you join the line (I know when I enter the UK with my American wife, we're allowed to go through the much-faster UK/EU resident line).

There is no status you can register your wife for that will accord her any advantages or recognition unless you are actually planning to emigrate to the US, in which case she could enter as your spouse and go through the normal progression from spousal visa to green card to citizenship.

But, regardless, you're married already. An additional marriage ceremony in the US is unneccessary and would give you no advantage in either immigration or tourist entry.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:55 AM on October 18, 2010

I do not believe there is a procedure to actually "register" a foreign marriage with U.S. authorities. You can get your marriage certificate authenticated at the consular office, but if the certificate is already certified by the issuing authority, I'm not aware of any U.S. governmental procedure that requires further authentication by U.S. officials. If you were to pursue a visa procedure at some point, you would need a certified translation, but that doesn't sound like anything you need to worry about now.

I'm not aware of any intermediate status between a tourist visa and immigrant visa. There's a K3 "nonimigrant spousal visa", but its purpose is to bring foreign spouses to the US whose immigrant visas have already been filed, so they can wait out the processing time with their beloved.

After the baby is born, if you're interested in obtaining a U.S. passport and/or establishing U.S. citizenship, you should file for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. Because the child's other parent is not a U.S. citizen, you may be required to produce evidence demonstrating that you resided in the U.S. for the stipulated number of years (5, I think) after the age of 16 (again, I think).
posted by drlith at 4:58 AM on October 18, 2010

I was surprised to learn some years back that there is no 'registry' of marriages of any sort in the US. I believe that it would entirely possible to become married by just filing taxes jointly.
posted by zeikka at 6:54 AM on October 18, 2010

I am a lawyer, but not an immigration lawyer. If I were in your situation, I would not even attempt to answer these questions for myself; I would get the best immigration lawyer I could find to make sure I took the best course of action.
posted by yarly at 7:31 AM on October 18, 2010

There is zero need for an immigration lawyer because hey guess what, you are not immigrating.

In fact there is zero need for any lawyer. You and your wife are married and there is nothing to file; if you are concerned about ever needing to substantiate this when visiting the US, bring a copy of the certificate. (We do this because we have different last names, but nobody has ever questioned our marriage at passport control.)

When your child is born, however, you will want to go register his or her birth with the US embassy so you can join him/her to your passport and so that you can register him/her for dual citizenship.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is zero need for an immigration lawyer because hey guess what, you are not immigrating.

Immigration lawyers also cover questions of citizenship. There's no way I'd entrust the acquisition of US citizenship of my child and wife to internet advice.
posted by yarly at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2010

Why would someone need a US immigration lawyer to deal with issues of citizenship for someone is Spain?

The best place to get advice about this for you is at the US Consulate's Citizen's Services Office, where they can authenticate the marriage, certify your child's birth, and other things like mail in your absentee ballot. You were planning on voting in the mid-terms right?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:37 AM on October 18, 2010

I'm an American, married to an Australian, living in Mexico, which is where our marriage took place and our baby was born. Here's how this has worked for us (I am not a lawyer, the laws may change, blah blah blah):

Regarding the marriage, there's nothing to do. Your marriage in Spain is just as valid as a marriage in the US for purposes of applying for residency in the US for your wife, if that's what you're planning.

When the baby is born, you'll apply at the US consulate or embassy that handles the region that you live in for a 'Consular Report of Birth Abroad' for the baby. This certificate will then function as the baby's birth certificate for such purposes in the US. It can be used to apply for the baby's US passport, social security number, etc. You may actually be able to file the passport application at the same time that you apply for the CRBA and get them issued at the same time. This is how the consulate in Guadalajara handled my son's CRBA and passport.

If you decide that you want to apply for residency in the US for your wife, you'll have to go through the visa application process, which will include providing translated copies of your Spanish marriage certificate, proof that you've been living together as husband and wife, financial information, etc. The only thing a marriage in the US would do to make this process any easier is that you wouldn't need to have the marriage certificate translated into English. That's all.
posted by toodles at 8:47 AM on October 18, 2010

I'm an American married to a Spanish woman, and I agree that you don't even want to think about making decisions about this before you talk to a lawyer. I've spent a lot more effort trying to stay clean with the US bureaucracy than with the Spanish one. Some things to consider, in addition to the complicated question of how to guarantee American citizenship for your children:

- Taxes. As an American citizen, you are required to file and pay taxes with the IRS every year, even if you reside in Spain for the rest of your life. You are doing that, aren't you? You need to figure out whether you want your wife to enter into that system, or else make sure she doesn't have to file. As I understand things, you will either have to get a Taxpayer Identification Number for your wife, and start declaring her income to the IRS, or else declare as "Married Filing Separately" and declare her as a "non-resident alien" in the space on the tax form for her ITIN. Your US tax bill may increase and your wife may have to make sure she spends less than 6 months out of the year in the US.

- Liability. If someones sues you under US law, or you have to declare bankruptcy in the US, is your wife liable as well? If you're married under New York law, she is. If you opted in Spain for "separaciĆ³n de bienes", or you were married in Baleares or Catalunia, where it's the default, and you don't register your marriage in the US, you might have a case for keeping her out of it.

- Inheritance. You need to figure out whether your estate would fall under US inheritance law, if you don't want to leave her with double taxation and a huge legal nightmare. If you buy a house together with your wife, or if you have any assets in the US, you want to have all this very clearly worked out. You may want to make a US will, just in case. If your child does not get into the US tax system, the US has special tax rules to try to prevent you from leaving assets to a foreigner.

- Social Security. I still haven't figured out yet how my Social Security affects my wife.

- Health Care. If you or your wife gets sick while traveling in the US, the hospital may not recognize a foreign marriage license. I paid a lawyer in the US to declare my wife as a Health Care Proxy and drew up a living will. I still haven't figured out if the new health care reform affects us.

I used a lawyer in the US, but the US Consulate has a list of lawyers in Spain here. Maybe one of them near you understands US law on these issues. I also had difficulty sometimes with explaining the US system to my wife. US law is more complicated than the Spanish system, with less wiggle room and much harsher penalties for getting things wrong. Having the facts from a lawyer made it easier to explain.

It's all a huge hassle, but I just keep telling myself that it's my responsibility to my wife to try my best to get this stuff right.
posted by fuzz at 9:38 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Immigration lawyers are going to be more reliable than strangers on the Internet. I wouldn't chance it. At least consult one.
posted by smorange at 10:18 AM on October 18, 2010

Wow some of these answers are scary! Don't even want to think about taxes and inheritance right now. I don't think my situation requires a lawyer per se, I think the straight answer from what it seems, is that unless we plan on moving to the U.S. (which we don't for the time being), there's really nothing to do in terms of status. I'll make sure to have the proper documentation to prove we are married so that we can enter together. I think my best bet is to go to the embassy and see what they say.

Thank you all for your responses.
posted by postergeist at 4:52 AM on October 19, 2010

Wow some of these answers are scary! Don't even want to think about taxes and inheritance right now.

Just to point out, you may not want to think about taxes right now, but the IRS definitely wants you to - you are already filing tax returns from abroad, right?
posted by Happy Dave at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2010

unless we plan on moving to the U.S. (which we don't for the time being), there's really nothing to do in terms of status

This is correct. At this point, it's establishing the baby's citizenship that you'll be working on. Just get the checklist of what documents you need to apply for the baby's Consular Record of Birth Abroad. The consulate or embassy that serves your region will have a website, and they may even have the info on applying for the CRBA online. If you do talk to a real live person there before you go in to apply, ask if you can apply for the passport at the same time, as if you can, you'll need to take passport photos of the baby with you.

Applying for the CRBA was not a big deal. Off the top of my head we took in originals and photocopies of: my birth certificate, my passport, the dad's passport, baby's birth certificate, our marriage certificate, my prenatal exam records and ultrasound pictures from various points in the pregnancy (so check now to see what your embassy wants so that you know if you should be saving this sort of stuff), and a form I had to fill out that asked for my dates of travel outside the US to determine that I myself have lived in the US for enough time for the baby to qualify for citizenship. Use the stamps in your passport(s) to help you fill out the form.

After you have the CRBA, you can apply for the baby's social security number, as you'll need that in order to declare him/her as a dependent on your taxes or if nice relatives in the US want to set up a savings account for him/her, etc.
posted by toodles at 8:42 AM on October 19, 2010

I read all of these posts and I am in a similar situation. I met a woman in Leganes, (Madrid), we have fallen in love and I wish to relocate from the US and marry her in Spain. It is sounding like this is doable, she is researching what we need to do on her end while I am doing the same on my side. Spain does not grant citizenship like the US does? Is the best option to marry her in Spain? I will be liquidating my assets in the US and moving there. WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
posted by GlassCactus at 9:31 AM on June 6, 2011

Hi Glass Cactus -- Welcome to Ask MetaFilter. This is not how it works. You have a new and different (actually opposite) question, and tacking it on to a really old post is not how we do things or how you get good answers. You need to post a new question when you are allowed to do that.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:27 AM on June 6, 2011

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