We outline everything you need to know about getting a divorce in Spain, including the legal grounds, process, costs, division of property, and more.
If you are getting a divorce in Spain, the good news is that it’s a relatively straightforward process. Naturally, you will want to understand the legal steps you need to take in order to legally end your marriage or civil partnership in Spain. Depending on your situation, you might also be concerned about how this will affect your residency and status. Therefore, it’s important to equip yourself with the correct information.
Fortunately, this guide is here to help by walking you through the process of getting a divorce in Spain. It includes the following information:
- An overview of divorce in Spain
- The legal grounds for divorce in Spain
- What to do if your visa depends on your marriage
- Getting a divorce in Spain: step by step
- Things to consider when getting a divorce in Spain
- Alternatives to getting a divorce in Spain
- Useful resources
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An overview of divorce in Spain
Spain had the fourth-highest divorce rate in Europe in 2019, following Luxembourg, Portugal, and Finland. There were 55.5 divorces per 100 marriages that year, which was higher than the EU average of 42.8. That said, it has been gradually declining in recent years; falling from 102,933 in 2010 to 91,645 in 2019.
Being able to get a divorce in Spain is actually a relatively recent phenomenon, as the country only permitted it in 1981. The late Francisco Franco banned divorce for four decades under his dictatorship. But even before then, it carried a huge social stigma within this predominantly Catholic country.
Spain’s ‘express divorces’
Many conservatives believe that the shift in traditional gender roles is responsible for the rise in Spain’s divorce rate. However, the introduction of the ‘express divorce’ bill in 2005 was the catalyst for the biggest increase. The bill makes getting divorced in Spain easier, faster, and cheaper. Consequently, when express divorces were introduced, there were 74.3% more divorces than in the previous year.
Once the financial, legal, and societal roadblocks to divorce were removed, estranged couples opted to get divorced rather than simply separate and live apart. As a result, the separation rate dropped by 70.7%.
The legal grounds for divorce in Spain
Getting a divorce in Spain is a relatively straightforward process, providing that you and your partner can reach an agreement on arrangements regarding any children and assets. The divorce law in Spain is no-fault, which means that it is not necessary to cite a reason to obtain your divorce.
It only requires a petition from you or your partner, and the marriage to have lasted for at least three months. The divorce laws in Spain are the same regardless of whether you are a heterosexual or gay couple, as marriage grants the same legal rights to inheritance and assets.
What to do if your visa depends on your marriage
If you’re a non-Spanish national, you can get a divorce in Spain if you or your spouse is a Spanish resident/Spanish national, or if at least one of you is habitually resident in Spain.
If neither of you is Spanish, you can choose which international law you want to get divorced under. You can apply to get divorced in Spain under the law of your home country (if that’s where you now reside), or under the laws of Spain. However, if you are no longer living in Spain at the time of your divorce, then your partner must be the one to apply to initiate the proceedings.
If your visa depends upon your marriage and you want to stay in Spain, you must follow these procedures. You should inform the Administration as soon as your divorce is finalized and tell them which of these following requisites entitles you to maintain your residency in Spain:
- The marriage has lasted at least three years (as long as you both lived together in Spain for at least one of those years)
- You’ve won custody of your children
- You don’t have custody, but do have visitation rights
- You were a victim of domestic violence or human trafficking by your partner during your marriage
Getting a divorce in Spain: step by step
The process of getting a divorce in Spain
It isn’t necessary to have been legally separated for any period of time before filing for divorce in Spain. However, you do need to have been married for at least three months. In very rare cases, you can petition for a divorce if you have been married for less time than this, but only if you can demonstrate that there is a danger to your life, you’re at risk of violence, or there is a threat to your liberty, moral integrity, sexual liberty, or indemnity.
Your first step is to find a local divorce lawyer who will petition the judge for a divorce order. They will draw up a proposal of governing convention (convenio regulador). This is the contract of agreement that covers the following issues:
- Cohabitation and custody arrangements for any children, including visitation rights of the non-custodial parent
- The sum that has to be paid for children’s alimony
- Any compensation allowance or alimony that, if any, shall be made by one of the spouses in favour of the other spouse
- Use of the family dwelling
- The manner, if any, in which the spouses continue to contribute to family expenses
You will typically need to gather the following documents in order to get a divorce in Spain:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificates of the children (if any)
- Certificate of empadronamiento of one of the parties
- Convenio regulador
Note: Any foreign documents (such as your children’s birth certificates if they were born outside of Spain) must be translated into Spanish up to three months before submission. The translations must have an official seal, known as the Certificate of Apostille of the Hague (apostilla de la Haya).
If you need to translate your documents, there are a number of online platforms you can use to find the right translator for you. These include:
After you have submitted the documents, both of you will be called to attend the hearing so the judge can ratify the convenio in person. If you absolutely cannot attend, then an Officer of the Court (Procurador) will ratify it on your behalf through Power of Attorney. As soon as the divorce is granted, you can legally remarry.
Types of divorce in Spain
There are two types of divorce in Spain: uncontested and contested. Below is an outline of the procedure you need to follow for each.
The procedure for getting a divorce in Spain is quickest when both parties agree to the terms. In some cities, there is a fast-track system for express divorces (divorcio por mutuo acuerdo). An uncontested express divorce permits both of you to use the same lawyer to draw up an agreement (convenio) and submit all the paperwork to the court together.
The power to grant the divorce rests with the judge, who also has the authority to approve the governing convention (terms). Assuming there are no unforeseen issues, it can take just a few weeks to finalize an uncontested express divorce. Without the fast-track option, an uncontested divorce in Spain can take two or three months.
In a contested divorce, only one of the parties files the divorce petition. Typically, this means that the process is long and complex. If you both fail to agree on the governing convention, then it will require negotiation between lawyers and possibly also third-party evidence.
Depending on the individual circumstances, provisional measures might need to be set up first regarding property, child custody, spousal support, and alimony. A contested divorce can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year.
Outcome of the divorce
The judge makes the final decision and files it with the Civil Registry (Registro Civil). You can appeal this sentence, and you or your former spouse can apply to modify the measures by judicial dictum.
The cost of getting a divorce in Spain
While the cost of getting a divorce in Spain can vary, it is relatively cheap. Typically, it costs between €700 and €1,500 which includes documents, power of attorney, and Procurador. A contested divorce, on the other hand, costs more. These usually start at €1,000 with additional costs, depending on the duration and circumstances. Using a local divorce lawyer, rather than an international one, will help reduce costs during the lengthy proceedings.
Things to consider when getting a divorce in Spain
Custody of children and child support
If the case involves very young children or infants, the mother is usually awarded custody, unless it is demonstrated that this would not be in the best interests of the child.
In recent years, however, courts have started to give greater consideration to joint custody, particularly if the children are older (school-age). If you agree to share visitation rights, then the judge will take this into account.
In an uncontested divorce, the two of you have to agree in advance on details including property division as part of your convenio. It also includes the division of any assets such as stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, business interests, motor vehicles, and so on.
Upon getting a divorce, both of you immediately lose any marital inheritance rights and widow’s pension rights. In addition, any joint financial liabilities in relation to third parties are terminated.
In Spain, courts generally award alimony only where one of the spouses is clearly at an economic disadvantage as a result of the divorce. A typical example is where one of you has given up your career to look after the children. Alimony awards vary but are generally between 15 and 40% of the higher income.
Alternatives to getting a divorce in Spain
Getting an annulment in Spain
The vast majority of unhappy couples in Spain seek divorce rather than annulment or separation. For instance, in 2019, there were 91,645 divorces, compared to just 3,599 separations and only 75 annulments.
Annulments are granted in Spain if you can prove the nullity of your marriage. However, this can be hard to demonstrate as it must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- The marriage was not consented to
- One or both couples were underage
- The marriage was forced or agreed to under duress
- It wasn’t correctly formalized by the judge/mayor/officer, or a witness wasn’t present
- One of you was convicted of murdering their previous spouse
If you think you have a case, either you or your partner can initiate annulment proceedings with the aid of a lawyer and a Procurador. As with divorce procedures, you can request temporary arrangements for housing and custody of any children you may have.
If you want to seek a religious annulment in Spain – and therefore have permission to remarry in a Catholic church – you need to take your case to the diocese where the marriage took place. Because the Church in Spain is very faithful to its belief of marriage being for life, you will need a very strong case and the help of a lawyer who specializes in religious annulments. However, the consent of your partner is not necessary for a religious annulment.
Religious annulments can proceed under the same basic criteria as a civil annulment (see above), with a few additional requisites:
- The marriage was never consummated
- One of you was not baptized
- One of you took a vow of chastity
The lawyer will deliver your request to the ecclesiastical court, and a hearing will take place before the Bishop over a 10 day period. However, the final decision may take up to a year and a half.
A religious annulment can cost between €900 and €2,000, although there can be additional costs of €450 to €4,000, making it comparable to, or more expensive than, most divorces in Spain. With a religious annulment, there is no alimony or compensation, and it does not affect the rights of the children. However, the state/country will recognize it as valid.
Mediation isn’t the same as marriage counseling. It’s for couples who have already decided that their marriage is over but want a cheaper alternative to a divorce lawyer. A mediator will perform the same services, such as dividing your assets and helping you reach an agreement regarding childcare and access.
They do this through meetings and discussions with both of you. The price can vary significantly, from €80 to €400 per hour, and both parties must share this equally.
Ending a civil partnership in Spain
Civil partnerships in Spain can be nullified or dissolved by notifying the Civil Registry. The process can be very fast (just months) if you agree on the division of assets and childcare. Your partnership can be nullified on the same grounds as those required for a civil annulment; with the addition of the clause ‘if the parties were not the same sex‘. However, there may also be a few other variations, depending on which autonomous community you live in.
Unlike with getting a divorce in Spain, you need to have lived apart for at least six months before you can end a civil partnership. In granting a decree of dissolution, the court won’t make any rulings over any children you may have, alimony, or division of property and assets. Therefore, you must include a parenting plan and all other agreements in your application.
A lawyer can help you draw up the agreements and file the case. Fees are in the same range as divorce or annulment fees.