Take me to church.. or to city hall?13 December, 2022
Italian weddings are known to be colorful, vibrant, and fun affairs. From food, the atmosphere, to the lively music, there’s plenty on offer, That’s why Italy holds a special place in the heart of many couples, whether they met there, have family there, have been on a romantic Italian trip, or are looking for a spread of la dolce vita.
The majority of Italian weddings take place in a church, due to the country’s overwhelming Catholic majority and the presence of The Vatican. However, Italy recognizes religious weddings from all faiths, including Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim religions (even though you also have to add a civil ceremony to be deemed legally binding). In most cases, the marriage process under these religions is similar in any country, including Italy. A mixed-religion wedding (between spouses of different faiths) will only be allowed if your Parish Bishop approves it. For Catholic weddings, at least one member of the couple has to be Catholic.
Anyone can be married in Italy, there’s no legal residency requirement. Whether foreign or not, you’ll have to provide paperwork that certifies your identity and that there are no legal or moral obstacles to celebrating your marriage.
Legally in love...
Legally, Italy recognizes two types of marriage: civil and religious. Italy also allows for the recognition of same-sex weddings, called civil unions, which grant rights similar to those of a marriage. You’ll also come across non-marital partnerships, called cohabitations.
Civil marriage is a non-religious marriage of two people. The civil marriage takes place in a non-religious setting and is performed in Italian by the Mayor of the city you decide to marry in, or civil registrar.
The Civil Ceremony normally consists of reading articles from the Italian Civil Code and marriage vows written by the couple or friends (if the couple wants one of them to be the officer).
In Italy, they can take place in a local town hall or one of the venues approved by them (need inspiration? we have the perfect article for venues or some general hints).
CIVIL CEREMONIES, general aspects:
Civil ceremonies are performed by the City Mayor or a civil officer, or a friend if he follows all the required steps to be nominated officer. All of them are conducted in Italian and require an official interpreter (if one member of the couple doesn’t speak Italian or is Italian). The civil ceremony must take place in a building approved by a local town hall, which means that it can be a town hall room or a different, approved location, but can be personalized incorporating personal vows, music, or poetry performances. It usually lasts 20-40 minutes.
Religious weddings differ from civil weddings in their religious setting and ceremonies. They take place in churches, where a priest and families and/or friends would read passages from the Bible. Due to the presence of the Vatican and their historical background, Italians are predominantly Catholic.
CATHOLIC WEDDING CEREMONIES, general aspects:
The Catholic wedding ceremony requires at least one of the partners to be Catholic and is legally binding as long as it has a civil element within the service (the so-called “reading of the Italian Civil Code articles’ moment”). Catholic weddings take place in a consecrated church or chapel and are conducted by a Catholic priest, but, unlike Civil Ceremonies, can be conducted in English.
Due to the sacredness of the venue, brides are required to cover their shoulders during ceremonies that last around an hour.
Unlike Civil Ceremonies, Catholic Weddings require a longer time to plan: you’ll need to coordinate between the Italian Church, your local church, city officials, and consulates. They also require the paperwork to be submitted no earlier than 3 months before your wedding date but no later than 1 month before it.
In 2016, the Italian government approved a law that allows a civil union of same-sex partners. Similar to other countries, a Civil Union in Italy is a practice strictly meant for gay couples, while marriage is only for mixed-sex couples.
It’s just a different name, but most of the rights and obligations are similar to the ones of a marriage.
CIVIL UNION, general aspects:
A Civil union is meant for same-sex couples and grants the same rights regarding inheritances, cohabitation, pensions, and family name as married couples. Unlike weddings, in Civil union there is no specific reference to being faithful, and its dissolution is easier than a divorce. Civil unions might require meeting the town hall office at least 30 days before the ceremony.
All you need is love...and more paperwork…
To be able to get married in Italy as a foreigner, both partners have to be single, legally divorced, or widowed, and must not be relatives, even if through adoption. In case one of the members of the couple is less than 18 years old, it’s mandatory to have written parental consent.
In case the woman divorced less than 300 days before the new wedding, she’s required to provide a non-pregnancy certificate to the local court (not so romantic…). The ceremony requires 2 witnesses
Let’s talk about documents and paperwork again. To marry in Italy, foreigners will need a valid passport or ID card (better as an original, but be sure to make some copies), original birth certificates, and, in case of divorced or widowed partners, divorce papers or a death certificate. Those are documents you can easily provide by yourself, but it’s not enough. You will also need a marriage Nulla Osta (certificate of no impediments), provided by the Consulate or Embassy of your country in Italy, an Atto Notorio signed by 2 witnesses (who have not to be the couple’s relatives), and a declaration of marriage intent submitted to the civil register.
And that’s just for the Civil Ceremony.
If you’re planning to get married in a majestic Catholic Wedding Ceremony in Italy, you will need more documents, to prove your path in the Catholic religion.
First, certificates of baptism, confirmation, and first communion, and a certificate of attendance to the pre-marriage course. To get married in a Religious Ceremony in Italy you will need a written letter from your Priest or Pastoral Advisor with his permission, a prenuptial inquiry issued by the archdiocese of your hometown, and a Nihil Obstat, a letter of no impediment to marry from the Bishop of the Parish in your country.
If one of the partners is not Catholic, you will also need a mixed religion marriage approval.
All the aforementioned documents must be sealed and stamped by the Bishop’s office.
It’s just a matter of time…
Different wedding ceremonies require different time planning. As a general statement, consider starting planning at least 4 months before a civil wedding, and 6 months before the Catholic wedding date (in Italy we usually like to take things slower, but this is an esteemed average).
First of all, consider what type of wedding ceremony you want and contact your home country’s consulate in Italy to get advice on obtaining specific (aforementioned) documents. Book your wedding location in Italy (be careful, for popular locations, you might have to do this already a year ahead. For some venue ideas…). Now it’s time to collect all your paperwork and documents. But first, apply for a visa (if you need one). Collect the birth certificates, prepare divorce or death certificates (if applicable) and apply for Nulla Osta in the Consulate or Embassy of your country in Italy (you might have to complete a form on their website, or send an email).
From the Italian Embassy in your home country, get an Atto Notario sworn by two witnesses, or, request it in the Civil Court in Italy. Be careful that, if one or more people present don’t speak Italian, you must get an interpreter. Last, but not least, submit your declaration of marriage intent to the local marriage office where your wedding ceremony will take place.
That’s the procedure part alike to both the ceremonies (civil and religious).
Now, let’s be more specific.
If you opt for a civil marriage, contact the town hall of the location you chose for your ceremony, and rent it for your ceremony (or, inform them about your different choice, or ask for another accepted location in the area). Choose your witnesses, and, if one of you doesn’t speak Italian, hire an interpreter (you might want to understand what’s going on during your wedding ceremony).
On the other hand, if you opt for a religious wedding ceremony, follow the prenuptial classes (they might take from one full day to 6 months, depending on your church). After that, your local priest has to write a declaration letter stating you are an active member of the church and that you completed the prenuptial course. Once you have made your decision about where and when you’ll get married in Italy, you need to obtain a Nihil Obstat from the Bishop of your parish, which should affirm that you have no impediment to getting married (and must include the name of the church in Italy and the date of your marriage). Besides the prenuptial course, you also need to complete a prenuptial inquiry form and get it approved by the Bishop. The form must be written on the parish letterhead, signed and stamped by the Bishop’s office.
Ask for help and check with your priest if your documents need a legalized translation. Most of the time, the Italian church is willing to translate it for you.
As mentioned, it’s important to send these documents no earlier than three months before your wedding date but no later than one month before it. Otherwise, it can expire or be delayed.
The special day is coming up…
2 Months before the wedding, remember to send the original Nihil Obstat, Prenuptial Inquiry Form, and the declaration letter directly to the Italian Priest of the church you’re getting married. Your priest will consult you on the best address where you should send these documents, but since Italian mail is not very reliable, be sure to use courier services such as FedEx or DHL, and don’t forget to save the tracking number!
After you’re done with the paperwork, you can go ahead and plan your guest list, book your accommodation(s) and make your ceremony as special as you wish!
At the religious wedding, you’ll sign your legal marriage license and receive an official marriage certificate. After your wedding, you have to verify it at the town hall.
Whether religious or civil, your wedding will be as special as you. Just choose for yourself, follow the rules (and paperwork) and enjoy the ride.