Consular marriages in Israel
What are consular marriages and in what cases can they be conducted in Israel? Consular marriages are conducted in embassies and consulates of foreign countries. In recent decades the State of Israel has begun to recognize these marriages under certain conditions. In general, this recognition applies to marriages in which both spouses are of no religion, and requires prior approval by the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry. This article presents an explanation by attorney Joshua Pex, a partner in our firm and expert in Israeli immigration law and in representing couples and families before the Interior Ministry.
A consular marriage is an important exception to the prohibition of civil marriages in Israel
Israeli law stipulates that marriages in Israel must be conducted according to religious law and prohibits couples from marrying in a civil marriage within the state’s borders. However, by law and according to Interior Ministry regulations, couples who were lawfully married in a civil marriage outside of Israel can be registered as married in Israel. This state of affairs led to the creation of various legal solutions over the years, such as conducting marriages in foreign countries that allow it (such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Georgia). Another solution that is possible today thanks to technological advancements is civil marriages conducted via video conference (in a procedure made possible by the state of Utah in the United States which has already enabled thousands of couples to get married this way and have their marriages subsequently registered in Israel).
Another lesser-known solution, which is a unique exception to the prohibition of civil marriages in Israel, is a consular marriage. Due to international commitments by which Israel bound, it is now possible to conduct marriages in foreign embassies and consulates that allow them, due to the fact that the territory of an embassy is legally considered to be under the autonomy of the foreign country it represents. As a rule, this option is only available to couples who do not belong to any religion, regardless of whether both spouses are Israeli citizens or if one of them is neither an Israeli citizen nor resident (for example, in cases of couples who wish to live together in Israel through the process of obtaining legal status for a foreign spouse).
What are the conditions for conducting a consular marriage in Israel?
Couples who wish to marry in a consular marriage within the borders of Israel are required, first of all, to locate an embassy or consulate of a foreign country that allows them to conduct the marriage. For example, the Brazilian embassy, which allows Brazilian citizens to conduct official marriage ceremonies led by the consul within the embassy compound, and to receive official marriage certificates from the Brazilian authorities. In 1994, the Supreme Court recognized a marriage conducted in this manner and established a requirement that Interior Ministry officials must register the marriages of couples who were married in a foreign consulate. Usually, foreign embassies and consulates who allow consular marriages require at least one of the spouses to be a citizen of the given country. It should be noted that although the case mentioned above deals with the recognition of a marriage where one of the spouses was Jewish, as a rule, current regulations, which are based on a relevant government decision, only recognize consular marriages of couples without religious affiliation; they do not allow members of any of the recognized religious communities in Israel to marry in this manner.
After locating a suitable embassy, a couple must obtain permission to conduct a consular marriage, which is then to be presented to the foreign embassy as a condition for conducting the marriage. Couples must act according to the regulations established by the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry. The procedure requires obtaining permission in advance to conduct a consular marriage. To apply at an office of the Population and Immigration Authority, both spouses must be present (even if one of them is not an Israeli citizen or resident). When applying, the couple must present their identity cards (or a valid foreign passport, in the case of foreign nationals), proof that they are irreligious or do not belong to a recognized religious group in Israel, and proof that they have not changed the details of their religion and nationality registration before applying. In some individual cases, it is possible that additional documents and proof will be requested.
Interior Ministry officials will examine the Israeli legal status of both spouses as part of the application. If one of the spouses is staying in Israel illegally, the couple’s application will be rejected. If the couple meets the required conditions, they will be granted permission to conduct the marriage, but with a caveat that the marriage’s validity is legally questionable. After receiving permission, the marriage ceremony can be conducted, after which the couple can apply to be registered as married in the Population Registry.
Applying for a consular marriage to be registered
As a rule, after the marriage has been conducted, it must be registered at an office of the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry, similar to civil marriages conducted abroad. However, various bureaucratic problems may arise when applying for registration, given the legal situation in Israel and the fact that court rulings on the matter are inconclusive. Although consular marriages have been recognized in Israel for a long time, it is possible that the Interior Ministry officials will make registering the marriage difficult, especially in cases where neither one of the spouses is a citizen of the foreign country in whose consulate they were married. In order to handle such a complex application optimally, we recommend conducting the entire process with the guidance and legal representation of an attorney who specializes in Israeli immigration law and in representing couples before the Interior Ministry.
Consular marriages in Israel – contact an attorney specializing in Israeli immigration law
In this article we explained the complexity involved in conducting and registering consular marriages in Israel. If you have any specific question on the subject, or need advice or assistance, you can contact our firm and we will be happy to be of service to you. The attorneys from our offices, located in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have many years of proven experience in accompanying couples in procedures for marriage recognition, obtaining legal status in Israel and dealing with a variety of related issues concerning the Interior Ministry and all levels of the court system.