Utah marriages – civil marriages in Israel by video conferencing (important legal information)
What are Utah marriages and how do they enable the registration of a civil marriage in Israel? As we know, couples cannot marry in a civil marriage within the borders of Israel. However, Israeli law stipulates that the Interior Ministry must recognize marriages that were legally conducted and registered abroad and register the couples as married in Israel as well. An important ruling by the Administrative Affairs Court from July 2022 means that a civil marriage conducted via video conference (also known as a Utah marriage) must also be recognized in Israel. In this article, attorney Joshua Pex, an expert in family law and civil marriage registration in Israel, explains everything you need to know about this issue.
A civil marriage without leaving your home – now it’s possible!
It is often said that technology tends to precede the law. This is true, for example, regarding violations of copyright and intellectual property, which have become easier than ever due to technological advancements, and the law has failed to provide adequate methods to deal with this phenomenon. The same is true in the case of civil marriage registration in Israel. While Israeli law still refuses to recognize civil marriages conducted within Israeli borders, current technology enables couples to get married without leaving the territory of Israel and without even leaving their home.
You may have seen media reports about the fact that state of Utah in the United States has begun to recognize marriages conducted through video conferencing (using the Zoom app). Once a ceremony is concluded, Utah authorities issue an official certificate confirming that the marriage has taken place. This method has allowed Israeli couples who were unable to physically leave Israel during the Coronavirus pandemic to get married and then legally register their marriage with the Interior Ministry. Following reports in 2020 that several couples married this way had their marriages legally registered, it was decided to freeze all additional applications submitted to the Interior Ministry, and these applications were later rejected. This rejection was overturned following an important precedent set by the Administrative Affairs Court in July 2022, which we explain in detail below.
What did the court rule on the matter?
The Administrative Affairs Court in the Central District heard an appeal by couples who had married via video conference and obtained official recognition from the state of Utah in the United States, but whose marriages had been refused registration by the Interior Ministry. The court accepted the appeal and ruled that the Interior Ministry must register the plaintiffs’ marriages. The court’s decision was mainly based on the fact that the couples’ marriage certificates, issued in the state of Utah, were completely legally valid public certificates. Legal precedents by the Supreme Court on the subject state that marriages are only to be refused registry in cases where the certificate is of questionable authenticity or there is reason to suspect that the details of the registration are incorrect. This was not the circumstances of the above cases, therefore it was ruled that the certificates must be recognized and the marriages duly registered.
In addition, the court’s ruling was based on the fact that several couples who were married in this manner had already had their marriages registered in Israel. In light of the above, it was ruled that on the principle of equality the marriages of the couples who appealed to the court must also be recognized, to prevent discrimination. Moreover, the court rejected the Interior Ministry’s claims that the marriages were in fact held on Israeli territory. It was ruled that the issue is a complex judicial matter which is not under the authority of the Interior Ministry. In light of the above, it was finally ruled that those who got married in a Utah marriage ceremony must be registered in the Population Registry as married. Although the court emphasized that the decision was made according to legal precedents on the matter, this ground-breaking ruling enables couples to get married using advanced technology and have their marriage recognized in Israel without needing to leave the country in order to marry and legally register their marriage.
What is required to register a Utah marriage?
Similar to other types of marriages conducted abroad, in countries such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Georgia, the couples must present the Interior Ministry with a public certificate attesting to the marriage. Because these certificates are issued in a foreign country, they must be duly authenticated (by an apostille stamp). In most cases, this is enough for the Interior Ministry to recognize the certificate and change the personal status of the couple to married in the Israeli Population Registry, in accordance with Israeli law and Interior Ministry regulations on the subject.
However, sometimes the Interior Ministry may make it difficult to get a certificate recognized and the marriage registered. For example, for marriages conducted according to the law in El Salvador, as a rule, instead of registering their marriages in a standard fashion, the Interior Ministry recognizes the couples as married by common-law. Therefore, we recommend seeking assistance throughout the process from an attorney who specializes in handling the issue with the Interior Ministry and the Population and Immigration Authority, in order to make sure that your marriage is indeed conducted legally and can be registered accordingly.
Utah marriages in Israel – contact an attorney specializing in civil marriage registration with the Interior Ministry
In this article, we presented an important ruling that recognized Utah marriages, allowing Israeli couples to be married in a ceremony conducted via video conference. If you have questions or need assistance on the matter, we are at your disposal. The attorneys from our firm, whose offices are located in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specialize in family law and in representing couples before the Interior Ministry in civil marriage registration procedures, as well as in obtaining legal status in Israel. You can contact us at the phone numbers and email address below.