What is a “Marriage of Convenience” in Spain?

marriage of convenience

What is a “Marriage of Convenience”?

A “Marriage of Convenience” (In Spanish: “Matrimonio de conveniencia” or “matrimonio de complacencia”) is defined as a union entered into for a legal, economic, or social benefit rather than for the purpose of establishing a familial bond. Typically, these marriages involve a union between a Spanish national and a foreigner, or between two foreigners, with the primary aim of securing legal residence status in Spain for the non-Spanish partner.

This arrangement often involves a financial transaction, where one party pays the other for their agreement to marry, with the understanding that the marriage will be dissolved through legal separation or divorce after a certain period.

Legal Framework and Detection

Spanish law has evolved to address the rise of “Marriages of Convenience,” particularly those aimed at circumventing immigration regulations. The Civil Registry in Spain plays a crucial role in preventing such marriages by conducting thorough investigations into the circumstances surrounding a proposed union.

This includes verifying the legal requirements for marriage, conducting separate interviews with the prospective spouses to assess the genuineness of their relationship, and scrutinizing cases involving foreign nationals with greater rigor due to the higher risk of fraudulent marriages.

Consequences of a “Marriage of Convenience”

The legal ramifications of entering into a “Marriage of Convenience” are severe. If a marriage is found to be fraudulent, it can be declared null and void, with no legal recognition granted. Moreover, such marriages can constitute a criminal offense when associated with document falsification or facilitating illegal immigration, leading to penalties including fines and potential imprisonment.

In cases where a marriage is conducted abroad, Spanish authorities may question its legitimacy when attempting to register the union in Spain. This skepticism often arises from the suspicion of fraud, making it challenging for couples to legalize their marriage in Spain, even if they are legally married in another country.

Administrative and Civil Penalties

The Supreme Court of Spain has established that fraudulent marriages may be subject to administrative sanctions, including fines ranging from 501 to 10,000 euros, or constitute a civil offense. Penal sanctions are reserved for cases involving profit motives (ánimo de lucro), document falsification (falsedad documental), or identity theft. Additionally, if the primary motive for the marriage is found to be the acquisition of residency rights, nationality, or family reunification benefits, the corresponding permissions may be denied or not renewed.

Document Falsification and Marriages of Convenience

Document falsification plays a significant role in facilitating marriages of convenience, where individuals alter or create false documents to bypass immigration laws for residency or citizenship. This practice is a criminal offense that undermines the legal system and the institution of marriage.

The crime of document falsification, or “delito de falsedad documental” in Spanish law, involves the alteration, modification, simulation, or fabrication of a document or part of it. This offense is considered a deliberate act of deception, requiring technical knowledge and often the involvement of forensic experts such as graphologists and document analysts to detect.

Governed by articles 390 to 399 of the Spanish Penal Code, this crime targets the integrity of legal documents, aiming to protect the security of legal transactions, public faith, and the confidence of citizens and institutions in the authenticity of documents as proof. Document falsification is a serious offense, punishable by prison sentences and substantial fines, with specific penalties varying based on the nature of the document falsified and the identity of the perpetrator, highlighting the Spanish legal system’s commitment to maintaining the reliability and trustworthiness of documentary evidence.

Legal Framework and Detection Enhancements

Spain’s legal system has developed a detailed framework to address document falsification related to marriages of convenience. The penalties for falsifying public, official, mercantile, or private documents are clearly defined, reflecting the seriousness of such offenses. This framework is part of Spain’s broader efforts to detect fraudulent marriages, aiming to maintain the legal integrity of marriage and documentation.

Addressing False Accusations

Couples who believe their marriage has been wrongly classified as a “Marriage of Convenience” have the right to appeal both administratively and judicially. This process allows them to present evidence of their genuine relationship and challenge the decision made by the authorities.

Comparative European Legal Framework

In neighboring countries like France, Portugal, and Belgium, marriages of convenience are considered to be criminal acts. The legal frameworks that dictate this include France’s Code on the Entry, Stay, and Right of Asylum for Foreigners, Belgium’s legislation governing the Entry, Stay, Establishment, and Removal of Foreigners, and Portugal’s regulations detailing the Entry, Stay, Exit, and Removal of Foreign Nationals from Portuguese soil.

The marriages of convenience in numbers

According to this article from La Información from June 2017, Spanish judicial sources estimate nearly three hundred cases of fraudulent marriages filed in 2016 between Spaniards and non-EU nationals. Marriages of convenience exploded in Spain since the early 2000s, with clandestine organizations charging between €6,000 and €10,000 to arrange marriages with Spanish citizens, granting immigrants express documentation to live and work legally in Spain.


“Marriages of Convenience” pose a complex challenge to the Spanish legal system, straddling the fine line between protecting the integrity of marriage as an institution and ensuring the rights of individuals to marry are not unduly restricted.

The Spanish authorities’ approach, characterized by a combination of preventive measures and stringent penalties, reflects a commitment to maintaining the sanctity of marriage while addressing the realities of immigration fraud. As this issue continues to evolve, it underscores the importance of a balanced and fair legal framework that can adapt to changing societal and legal landscapes.