Marriage abroad should be the best day of anyone’s life. But Kirsty Tuxford reports on why getting married in Spain might not be quite what you bargain for.
For Erica Peters, the biggest day of her life was nothing if not full of surprises.
“My first surprise was to see Elvis alive and well and acting as my chauffeur,” she remembers.
“Then I saw a family of gypsies having a picnic in the parking lot (of the church). I was taken by surprise when I found out that the ‘gypsies’ were actually the groom’s friends in costume.”
Thankfully, Peters is not the shy, retiring type and the fancy-dress wedding was a welcome relief after months of battling against bureaucracy both in Spain and in her native United States.
“Never did I imagine that marrying the man I love would be so much work!” she said.
Before her marriage to Spaniard Angel Fernandez Carbonell in Barcelona, she had to travel back and forth to the US to obtain the necessary documents.
As a non-Catholic she had to attend a six-hour ‘marriage course’ in Barcelona.
And, this being Catalonia, of course the ‘marriage course’ and interviews with the priest were all in Catalan. Finally, the Church agreed to marry her.
After all the paper-pushing and gruelling interviews, it was all worth it for Peters.
But dressing up as the King of Rock, may seem tame to some daring souls who want to make their wedding day truly something they will never forget.
Michael Gill, director of Innovations Xtreme has a inflatable church that has officially been registered with the Guinness Book of Records in 2004 as the largest in the world.
“Interior fittings include an inflatable organ, altar, pulpit, pews, gold cross and even statues of angels. There is even a plastic ‘stained glass’ window,” says Gill.
“We can bring the church to the bride rather than the other way around. And there’s no problem with high heels!”
If you want something slightly more restrained, many companies will arrange the entire day, although what becomes apparent from speaking to wedding planners from all over Spain, is that the price and rules vary tremendously from region to region.
Pricewise, a wedding for fifty guests with all the trimmings, from the church, transport and reception, could cost anything from EUR 6,000-16,000.
Wedding planners usually require up to ten months notice to plan the entire wedding.
But be prepared if you are invited to a Spanish wedding, as some customs may be a surprise.
The bouquet can be offered to the Virgin, not the bridesmaid, and rice may be thrown in place of confetti.
Don’t be shocked if when you receive your invite, the happy couple’s bank account number is given. It is customary to give cash instead of gifts.
As far as the legalities are concerned, these are the same all over Spain and apply in the same way from Valladolid to Valencia and in the same way to Spaniards as foreigners.
Anna Solli, a wedding planner, explained: “It’s the same procedure as for Spanish people. It all has to go through the courts.”
It is important that couples present passports, birth certificates and evidence that they have been registered as living in the area they wish to marry (or a certificate of empadronamiento), for at least one year.
Russell Thompson, former British consul for Alicante explained: “The Registro Civil (Civil Registrar) deals with the signing of documents that make the marriage legally valid. The office is usually located in the town hall”.
For the British, one alternative to facing the seemingly endless paperwork involved in Spanish weddings, is the option of marrying in Gibraltar.
Michael Gregory and Jeanette Hodgson did just that in December 2004 but their marriage hit the headlines for tragic reasons.
The helicopter they were flying in on what should have been a romantic trip immediately after the ceremony, crashed in the Concha mountain, near Marbella, on the Costa del Sol. Both newlyweds and the pilot were killed.
Things went slightly better for Maureen and Derek Philips when they tied the knot in Gibraltar three years ago.
“The ceremony in Gibraltar was just the paperwork. The real wedding for us was the blessing at home in Spain,” said Maureen. Philips.
“We needed two witnesses, which we got from the registry office, and we had to register as staying in Gibraltar for a couple of days.”
Samantha James and Richard Mayfield followed the same route on in August last year, with a blessing in the grounds of their house in Finestrat, Alicante on the Costa Blanca.
James explained: “The woman who conducted the blessing was a friend that we are close to. It doesn’t have to be official with the blessing, it’s a more personal thing.”
Marriage in Spain has always been viewed with seriousness, and divorce was only legalised in 1981, as previously, marriage was for life.
With same-sex weddings now legal in Spain, a whole new mini-industry of for gay weddings in the sun is also springing up.