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

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

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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