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Civil union or marriage in Spain: which one is better?

The benefits and drawbacks of “pareja de hecho” or “matrimonio” in Spain depend on your personal circumstances. Here we analyse how civil partnerships and marriage can help foreigners in Spain.

Civil union or marriage in Spain: which one is better?
Photo: Neal E Johnson/Unsplash

If you’re thinking of tying the knot or making your relationship more official with your partner, it’s important to know what the differences are between civil partnerships and marriages in Spain.

As with most legal matters here, regional governments have the powers to override national legislation when it comes to the union between two people, so which one you pick could ultimately be influenced by where you live.

However, there are rules which generally apply across the board, advantages and disadvantages that “matrimonio” and “parejas de hecho” have which we can compare.

Advantages of civil partnership in Spain

It’s fast

The application process for a civil partnership in Spain is quick and straightforward, especially when compared to marriages.

You can gain residency more easily

If you are from a non-EU country but your partner is an EU citizen, a civil partnership will allow you to obtain residency in Spain without the need of having a job (as long as your partner can prove sufficient means of income for both of you). 

Photo: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

You can hold onto residency if you break up

As long as you have been with your partner in Spain for at least 3 years (living and registered as a common-law couple), you will be able to end your common-law relationship and continue to have residency in Spain even if you’re a non-EU citizen.

Access to healthcare

If your common law partner is working and you aren’t, your civil partnership gives you the right to be a beneficiary of his or her social security contributions and thus have access to Spain’s public health system, after one year of registering your civil union.

You can have a prenup…or not

It’s possible to have a pre-agreed legal arrangement for civil partnerships in Spain but civil unions do not have to abide by any laws when it comes to your money in the event of a break up.

So neither party has to automatically pay alimony or share their assets if they separate, unless it was previously agreed upon.

In some Spanish regions “parejas de hecho” have access to the same inheritance and donations tax allowances as marriages do.

Same paid leave rights

De facto couple enjoy the same rights as married spouses in terms of work leave in the event of their partner’s serious illness or death, and the same paternity or maternity leave if they have a child.

If they are civil servants they can also get a 15-day ‘honeymoon’ leave permit when they become common-law partners.

A widow or widower’s pension is possible

Under certain circumstances, a partner in a civil union can be granted a widow’s/widower’s pension if their partner dies. Generally, their civil union must be at least two years old and they must have lived together for at least five years.

Simpler separation and custody process

The steps to take if a relationship breaks up are generally the same for marriages and civil partnerships, but in the case of a married couple these measures have to abide by the standard separation or divorce process in the courts, which can be quite lengthy and expensive.

For common-law couples it’s simpler in that they only have to sign and hand in a document at the registry office (registro civil) to dissolve their union.

Regarding deciding children’s custody, it’s just a verbal procedure where both parents sign if they agree on the custody arrangement. If they don’t agree it has to be done through legal channels. 

Advantages of marriage in Spain

Marriage in Spain grants the same benefits as civil unions with regards to residency to foreigners and in particular non-EU nationals, as well as access to healthcare, but there are specific advantages to “matrimonios” that civil unions don’t have.

It’s traditional to throw rice at the groom and bride at Spanish weddings. Photo: Photo: Tanvir.Nottingham/Flickr

Citizenship after one year

If your spouse is Spanish, you can apply for Spanish citizenship after one year of marriage, whereas common-law partners have to abide by the same laws relating to foreigners’ nationality and length of residency (usually ten years).

Tax benefits

Married couples in Spain can file their income tax return jointly whereas common-law partner cannot. This can be advantageous if one spouse has low earnings.

In some Spanish regions civil partnerships don’t enjoy the same inheritance and donations tax allowances as if they were a marriage.

Adopting is reportedly easier

Although Spanish law has changed its Civil Code to allow de facto partners to adopt children just as married couples do, there are reports that in practise it is far easier for married spouses.

Some Spanish regions also have more requirements for common-law partners than for married couples.

Widow or widower’s pension is easier to get

If you’re married in Spain, you are legally entitled to a widow or widower’s pension as well as part of your partner’s inheritance, even if the deceased didn’t have a will and if the marriage hadn’t happened long before.

For civil partners there has to be a previously agreed upon arrangement or a will and other requirements such as proof of the length of the union and other financial criteria.

No proof of relationship to marry

We’re not endorsing that any marriage that isn’t based on love should go ahead, but it’s worth noting that in terms of proving the legitimacy of the relationship, it’s more straightforward for those getting married.

While those tying the knot will generally only have to prove they’re not already married (certificate of no impediment) and of legal age, partners in a civil union will have to show proof that they have been living together for at least a year.

This could pose a problem for long-distance couples where a non-EU partner joins their EU partner in Spain but cannot prove they have been living together for a year when applying for a civil union.

Paid honeymoon leave

Spanish law allows for 15 days of paid holiday leave for couples who have just got married whereas for civil unions this will depend on whether one of the partners is a civil servant or their work contract contains a clause allowing for this type of paid leave.

Which one should we choose: civil union or marriage?

A “pareja de hecho” union in Spain offers the vast majority of the advantages that marriage does, plus in many cases less complicated and lengthy proceedings.

But as a general rule, marriages offer a more legally binding commitment between partners and usually more financial protection, especially to the disadvantaged side.

Common-law partners can either maintain a degree of financial independence or be left high and dry in the event of separation or death.

It will depend on your particular preferences and set of circumstances when it comes to deciding, but remember to check what the differences are in your particular region in Spain to get the full picture before saying “sí, quiero” (I do). 

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.