Una Boda and the Juzgado de Paz
Well, as you now know, Andrew and I will be getting married in September.
When I, without hesitation, said ‘Yes’ back on Christmas Day morning, we began to think that we’d like to get married the Spanish way. We live in Spain and we are keen to embrace as much of the Spanish way of life as possible, so it made sense to decide to go through the Spanish matrimonial channels. It is also worth mentioning, at this stage, that Spain is one of the most accepting and liberal of countries and was one of the first European countries to legalise same-sex marriages.
So, when we recovered from Christmas we thought we’d take a trip to the local Juzgado de Paz in neighbouring Restábal (in our old stomping ground of El Valle de Lecrín) to see what we needed to do. The office of the Juzgado de Paz (Justice of the Peace) is only open on Fridays, and is on the ground floor, around the side of the town hall. Stepping in through the door is like stepping back into Krook’s dingy rooms in Charles Dickens’ novel 'Bleak House', a shadowy place filled with collected legal papers. The Juzgado de Paz office is tiny, and one wall is lined with bookshelves filled with old archives of Births, Marriages and Deaths for the administrative district of El Valle. The walls are sepia-coloured, as any rules regarding smoking at work have bypassed this corner of Andalucia’s legal system.
Behind a desk squeezed into a dusty corner sits Ana. We like Ana, but on first introduction, she can appear to be quite intimidating. Ana is what Terry Wogan used to describe as being a ‘Handsome Woman’, very solidly put together and sporting an array of piercings as well as a kaleidoscope of tattoos. We did notice that her finger and toenails were always well-painted, and her hair was very tightly cut on either side of her head; her voice came out in a husky purr, a sort of Eartha Kitt-type rumble.
The Juzgado de Paz himself sat in an armchair against one of the other walls, taking everything in while browsing through one of the tomes of registered Births, Marriages or Deaths, looking for what we have no idea.
Ana was seemingly completely unfazed by the arrival of two Englishmen, excitedly expressing the desire to get married, and at a decidedly unhurried pace she dug out some documents that had been Gestetner-ed sometime back in the 1960s, and were faded through repeated copying and age.
We were told that we would have to produce LOTS of documents, translated into Spanish and that these were to be brought back to Krook’s House at some stage in the future for the next stage in the process. So, we went off with grey, photocopied instructions and a spring in our steps as it was evident that our plans could well be possible. We decided that we would like to get married in September and the Juzgado de Paz, knowledgeable in such affairs, thought that the timing would be achievable.
The documents that we had to obtain included a Certificate of No Impediment and a Certificate of Civil Status, both of which have to be provided by the British Consulate in Madrid, and for which we had to pay a sum of money. In a matter of weeks, officially stamped and formal-looking documents arrived from Madrid, and we had to have original copies of Birth Certificates, Residency status and NIE, our identification as foreigners living in Spain.
It should be added that, during the interim period, Ana had tried to fob us off by saying that the process might be quicker if we applied directly through the Registro Civil in Granada. We did email the said office who asked where we intended to get married. A friend of ours has a cortijo some 35 minutes’ drive from Granada, and it is the perfect spot for a wedding, as there is accommodation for guests and plenty of space for a party. Given that the cortijo is in the Loja administrative region, we were told that we would have to apply to that particular office which, in turn, told us that we would have to register in the office where we were on the residents’ register (the Empadronamiento). Back to Ana.
So, armed with a fat portfolio, we trotted back to see Ana, who gave rather too deep a sigh when she saw us again, but we remained undeterred.
Copies were taken of all our documents, and these were rubber-stamped (heavily), signed, then passed to the Juzgado de Paz, still installed in his armchair, to be counter-signed. The completing of documents by hand, the stamping and the signing took the best part of an hour and half. A further document (un edicto) was completed that declared our intention to marry, and this was pinned to the noticeboard outside the office. We were then told that similar documents would need to be sent to the offices where our births had been registered. I was born in the then West Germany, so I doubted that the British Consulate in Dusseldorf still exists, but Ana just grabbed an envelope, took a deep draw on her cigarette and scribbled “British Consulate, Dusseldorf” on the envelope and shoved in the document, quite possibly accompanied by a generous smidgen of ash.
We had to wait for 15 days, presumably for either the registry office in Tonbridge or Dusseldorf to deny all knowledge of our existence. Protest came there none. The documents were then sent off to the Registro Civil in Granada for their approval, and we were told to wait another 20 days or so. This was, by now, the end of May, our wedding date was getting ever closer, and we had guests wanting to book flights; no pressure.
20 days passed in a flash, so we hot-footed it back to see Ana for an update. By now, we had become inured to the fusty patina of the Juzgado de Paz office, and we had warmed to Ana’s sardonic smile as she dealt with her two barking mad foreigners.
Sadly, no word had been received from Granada, so Ana suggested we went direct for a speedier result. We left and immediately headed to the main Registro Civil in Granada to get an appointment. We didn’t have to wait long and in a flash our file was found, which we took to be a positive sign. Positivity was fleeting. We were told that we would have to bring in all our original documents, as the Juzgado de Paz in El Valle had sent photocopies. We explained that we had submitted all our original documents to El Valle and the copies had been signed and stamped as being official by both Ana and the Juzgado de Paz. No, the documents had to be original.
The following Monday, we returned with the original documents and planted them decisively in front of our administrative friend who rifled through them and then said we had to have our Birth Certificates translated into Spanish and that our Empadron document was not a Certificate.
A lot is written about so-called Spanish Bureaucracy, but we have never really found it to be that onerous, or at least no more onerous than some of the systems that exist in the UK. However, we were in June and our wedding was pencilled in for the beginning of September and we still had no official date. It would cost us yet more money to get the translations and even then we felt that there might be another hurdle to jump before confetti could be purchased. On the steps of the Registro Civil, we did hit a bit of a wall and realised we had two choices: either pursue the document route so we could get married in the Spanish system, or admit a minor defeat and whizz down to Gibraltar to get married within the UK system.
Had we had more time, I think we would definitely have persisted along the Spanish route, as this is where we now live and the country whose customs we want to adopt. However, faced with a choice and a finite period of time, we took the route of least resistance. I imagine that Ana breathed a sigh of relief when we informed her that we would not be pursuing our application. Either that, or she took another deep draw on her cigarette and filed away the documents relating to Rutter and Watson, the two mad Extranjeros.