EU update : 3/2013




Marriage (civil marriage: meeting legal requirements, but without any religious affiliation) is a legal status recognised in all EU countries.

Different rules apply to partnerships other than marriage, such as registered partnerships and de facto unions.

National rules and practice for marriage differ from one country to another, mainly as regards:

  • rights and obligations of married couples – for instance concerning their property, role as parents or their marital name.
  • relationship between religious and civil marriage – some countries recognise religious marriage as equivalent to civil marriage, others do not. If you move to another country after having entered into a religious marriage only, it is important to check the consequences for your marital status.
  • requirements for marriage – the most notable difference is the right of same-sex couples to get married. As of today, the following EU countries grant this right: Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Formalities – before the wedding

If different EU countries are involved – for instance because you marry someone of a different nationality or because you plan to move abroad after getting married – check which country’s laws apply to your marriage and to your matrimonial property regime. This will have important consequences for your rights and obligations as spouses.

If you are getting married in a different EU country from the one where you live, check with the authorities in both which formalities are needed for your marriage to have full force and effect in both countries. These may include registration or publication requirements.

Formalities – after the wedding

In theory, your marriage is guaranteed to be recognised in all other EU countries – but this does not fully apply to same-sex marriages.

If you get married in a different EU country than your country of origin it is a good idea to register the marriage at the consular office of your country of origin where you live.

If you move to another EU country for work, your husband or wife can come and live with you there if they are also a citizen of an EU country. Different rules apply forspouses without EU citizenship.

Sample story

Same-sex marriage – when national practices differRainbow_flag

Emma, a Belgian national, married Carine, a French national, in Belgium. When Emma had to move to Germany for work, Carine followed her – but they were not regarded as married by the authorities, since same-sex marriage is not recognised in Germany.

However, because registered partnerships between same-sex couples are allowed in Germany, Emma and Carine can be granted the same rights as couples with registered partnerships under German law.

Registered partnerships

In several EU countries, you can make your partnership official without getting married, in the form of a registered partnership (sometimes called a civil partnership).

Registered partnerships allow 2 people who live together as a couple to register their relationship with the relevant public authority in their country of residence.

Differences between EU countries in this field are huge, in terms of not only the possibilities they offer, but also the extent to which partnerships contracted abroad are

recognised (if at all).

When two or more EU countries are involved – for instance because you move after registering, or register abroad – you should find out which country’s laws apply to your partnership – they will have important consequences for your rights and obligations as registered partners.

Registered partnerships are considered equivalent or comparable to marriage in some – but not all – EU countries.

EU countries which do not recognise registered partnerships:

  • Bulgaria
  • Cyprus
  • Estonia
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Malta
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Slovakia


In Spain civil unions are registered with the Ministry of Justice

In Spain civil unions are registered with the Ministry of Justice

Where they are considered equivalent, they give you the same rights for immigrationpurposes: your registered partner will be entitled to come with you if you settle in these countries.

All countries that allow same-sex marriages generally recognise same-sex registered partnerships concluded in other countries.

In countries which do not allow same-sex marriages but which have introduced some form of registered partnership, a same-sex marriage abroad generally gives you the same rights as a registered partnership.

If your partner is an EU national and is economically dependent on you, they will need to claim residence rights (based on their right to follow a registered partner) from the authorities in the country you’re moving to.

If your partner is not an EU national, the registered partnership will be key to obtaining the right to live in the EU.

If you want to enter another EU country which does not recognise registered partnerships at all, your partnership will be considered a duly attested long-term relationship. Your new country must facilitate the entry and residence of your partner.

Property rights and maintenance rights for people in registered partnerships are not applied the same way in all EU countries: the rights you derive from your registered partnership in one country may be substantially different in another.


How this should work Sample story Able to stay – thanks to registered partnership

Nina is an entrepreneur from EU country “A” who was exploring a business opportunity in country “B” and wanted her registered partner Hans – unemployed at the time – to join her there.

Although country “B” does not recognise registered partnerships, the existence of the partnership served as proof that the two had a long-term relationship, and Hans was allowed to move there with Nina, even without financial resources of his own.


 De facto unions

If you live together with a partner in a stable and continuous way, you have certain EU-wide rights, even if you have not registered your partnership with any authority.

If you move with your de facto partner to another EU country, that country must facilitate his or her entry and residence there if you can prove you live together or prove in some other way that you are in a long-term relationship. This is true whether or not your partner is an EU national.

In EU countries which recognise de facto unions, you will also have rights and obligations concerning property, inheritance and maintenance payments following a separation.

These rights are particularly important for same-sex couples, as not all EU countries allow them to get married or register their partnership in any way.

However, most EU countries have not defined exactly how you can prove a long-term relationship or cohabitation.

If you live in a country where you cannot get married (same sex couples) or enter into a registered partnership – or if you choose not to do either – one option could be to set up a cohabitation contract between you, to settle certain aspects of your cohabitation.

In practice, however, even with such a cohabitation contract it may still bedifficult for you to enforce your rights.

If conflicts about property arise, the law of the country where the conflict occurred will generally apply.


Source: The European Union official website,

Featured image/thecmm, PD via Flickr
Rainbow flag by Ludovic Berton, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Ministerio de Justicia, Fair use
Couple/Prettysleepy from Pixabay