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Everything you need to know about civil marriage in Israel – legal information

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

There is a lot of misinformation among the public on the subject of civil marriage in Israel. In this article, Joshua Pex – an immigration lawyer and partner in our firm – will clear up some of the confusion around the subject and explain: is it possible to perform civil marriage in Israel? When is a civil marriage officially recognized by the state? To whom does a spousal covenant apply? And what is the legal validity of common law marriage?

Our law offices, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specialize in immigration to Israel and representation of clients before the Interior Ministry. We provide comprehensive assistance to our clients with everything related to arranging marriage, joint life in Israel and permanent legal status for foreign partners.

Civil marriage in Israel

The institution of marriage in Israel

There is some confusion among the general public on the subject of marriage in Israel. Most of the public is aware that Israeli civil law dictates that marriage must be performed according to religious law. It is also known that people registered as having “no religion”, or mixed-faith couples, cannot get married within Israel. Likewise, there are couples who cannot get married in Israel due to religious laws: a Cohen and a divorced woman, a “mamzer” (a person born as a result of incest or adultery), etc. A civil marriage ceremony in Israel, despite its symbolic meaning for the couple and their loved ones, has no legal force. Nevertheless, many couples are registered as married in Israel even though they were never married according to religious law. How can this be explained?

Despite the fact that the law does not recognize civil marriages performed in Israel, the law and the Interior Ministry regulations state that a marriage must be registered, even if it was performed abroad, subject to presentation of public certification confirming it. Thus Israeli couples, or couples with an Israeli spouse and a foreign spouse, who were married overseas, are registered as married if they present officially approved documents that prove their marriage.

Where and how can civil marriage be performed?

There are several countries in the world that allow Israeli citizens to perform civil marriages on their territories. Two countries that have become popular destinations for marriage are Cyprus and the Czech Republic. This is because, among other things, neither country requires a certificate to prove that the state of Israel does not object to the marriage – a certificate that for religious and political reasons, Israel cannot grant. The legal procedure for marriage in these countries is simple and convenient. Our offices assist couples who wish to get married in these countries and register their marriages in Israel afterwards.

The spouses cannot always leave the country to get married. For mixed couples (an Israeli with a foreign citizen), the visa of the foreign partner sometimes does not allow to exit and re-enter Israel for the purposes of marriage. In other cases, the Israeli partner may be restricted from leaving the country for a variety of reasons. In these cases, the couple has the option of performing a wedding without the presence of one or both of the partners, and register as married thereafter. There are several countries that allow this. For more details on this issue, see this article on our website.

Spousal covenant – who is it relevant for and is it parallel to marriage?

In 2010 the ‘Spousal Covenant for People with no Official Religion Law was passed. As its name indicates, the law offers a solution for a relatively small group of Israelis. The law applies to heterosexual couples (a man and a woman) who are both Israeli citizens and registered has having “no religion” in the Population Registry. Naturally, very few couples register under the law – only about 10 couples a year, according to the data. The couple is not registered as “married”, but rather a parallel registration status defined under the Matrimonial Partnership Law. Nevertheless, the partners enjoy most of the benefits reserved for married couples.

Common law couples

There are many couples in Israel who run a joint household, and qualify as common law couples. This is a broad definition without clear legal criteria. The legal institution of common law couples developed in Israel as an answer to the problems of many couples who cannot enter into a regular marriage contract. A “common law couple” is not a status that can be listed on official documents, but such couples are eligible for many of the rights reserved for married couples. Israelis who live as common law couples with foreign partners can even take action to obtain Israeli legal status for their partners.

Civil marriage in Israel – for and against

Though Israel lacks a civil marriage institution, there are many people who would like to change that. The lack of option to get married outside of religious institutions arises frequently in the political discourse, with the liberal secular parties try to promote legislation legimitizing civil marriage in Israel and the conservative religious parties objecting to such legislation. In any case, to this day no political coalition has managed to pass legislation for civil marriage.

The arguments for civil marriage in Israel highlight Israeli citizens’ right to choose how to marry, including the option to be married outside of a religious framework. Those who support civil marriage wish to break the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate (and the religious institutions of the Christian and Muslim communities) over the institution of marriage in Israel. In addition, there are many situations where religious law prevents partners from marrying in Israel, and so many couples are forced to live together under common law without official marriage, or travel abroad to get married in a civil ceremony.

Those who oppose civil marriage in Israel emphasize the essence of Israel as a Jewish state. They hold that Israel was founded in order to allow the Jewish people to live in a homeland of their own and maintain their ancient traditions. They argue that legislation for civil marriage would break the status quo which has existed since the founding of the state and would damage Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Likewise, according to the supporters of marriage through religious institutions, the vast majority of Israelis are perfectly happy to be married through such institutions, which goes to prove that most of the nation supports religious marriage.

Studies have shown that most Israeli citizens support the right to choose how to be married, meaning they support civil marriage in Israel, and at the same time express their desire to be married through the religious institutions. The conclusion is that even if a civil marriage law is passed in Israel (which is unlikely under the current government), most Israelis will choose to marry under the religious institutions if they can, because that is their preferred option.

Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration law

In this article we have tried to clarify the complex issue of civil marriage in Israel and provide some relevant legal information. In the process, we have refuted some myths which many Israelis believe to constitute the current legal situation. If you are facing any question or legal issue regarding immigration to Israel or family law, you can contact our offices and we will be glad to help. The attorneys of of our law office, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have extensive experience in assisting couples with civil marriage in Israel.

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