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Marriage with a foreigner – peculiarities of the legal regime

International marriage. Getting married in Bulgaria. Divorce with a foreigner in Bulgaria.

Marriage according to the current Bulgarian law

Marital relations are one of the most important social relations. The dynamics of these relations give rise to various complications and peculiarities, especially when there is an international element.

The Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria defines marriage as a voluntary union between a man and a woman. Only civil marriage is legal in Bulgaria. A religious rite may be performed before marriage, but it has a purely formal and ceremonial meaning. A religious rite, that is common as a marriage, has no legal effect. The parties cannot refer to it as a valid marriage.

The so-called same-sex marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman cannot be concluded in Bulgaria. The legislation of the Republic of Bulgaria does not allow it (yet).

Hristo Vasilev lawyer VD&A
author: lawyer Hristo Vasilev

Marital relations with an international element

All of the requirements for concluding a marriage that apply to Bulgarian citizens apply also to foreigners. Any foreigner can enter into marriage with a Bulgarian citizen on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. For him there must be no obstacles under Article 7 of the Civil Code, namely – the foreigner must not be bound by another marriage in order to avoid bigamy. He should not be placed under total interdiction or suffer from diseases that are grounds for placing him under total interdiction or that are dangerous to the health and life of the other spouse. A marriage between a Bulgarian and a foreign citizen can also be concluded abroad in front of a Bulgarian diplomatic or consular representative if the law of the respective country allows it.

The foreign citizen must submit all the documents required by Article 9 of the Family Code, namely: a declaration that there are no obstacles to the marriage; a medical certificate that he does not suffer from diseases.

The future spouses, with a view to a full and comprehensive settlement of the matrimonial personal and property relations, can conclude before a notary and notarize a marriage contract that will regulate their future relations.

An additional legal consequence of the marriage of a foreigner with a Bulgarian citizen is the possibility for the foreigner to obtain permanent residence in Bulgaria.

NB! The foreign citizen can choose a property regime and relations of separation or community of the property of the future spouses. In this case, those getting married are signing a notarized declaration about the regime they have chosen. The legal regime here is flexible and liberal because the foreigner can choose a property division regime and thus the future property will belong solely to the name of the spouse who acquired it.

Divorce with a foreigner in Bulgaria

Any foreigner can divorce a Bulgarian citizen on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, subject to a strictly formal court procedure. Divorce is carried out only by court order, unlike some legislations in which an administrative order is provided for the execution of the divorce. A ground for divorce is when the marriage is deeply and irreparably broken and there are no grounds and personal reasons for its continuation. The legal regime is flexible and spouses can divorce by mutual consent without seeking fault for the termination of the marriage. The Family Code also regulates the conclusion of a court agreement to finally settle and resolve personal and property relations, as well as relations with children.

Bulgarian law does not recognize and does not regulate the institution of judicial separation, which is regulated in many other legislations. De facto separation is a concept in Bulgarian law according to which spouses do not live together in the same household. Separation is a fact that determines the deep and irreparable disorder of marriage in Bulgarian law.

In a number of cases, when one of the spouses does not agree to end their marriage, then the divorce procedure is longer and more complicated. When one spouse is a foreigner, the rules of the Code of Private International Law apply to the dissolution of the marriage and the jurisdiction of the divorce proceedings. Pursuant to Article 7 of the Code of Private International Law, matrimonial claims must be considered by the Bulgarian courts in the event that one of the spouses is a Bulgarian citizen or has a habitual residence in the Republic of Bulgaria. Divorce claims are settled in the district courts as the first instance.

Legal consequences of the divorce

The court decrees a divorce and the marriage is terminated with the entry into force of the court decision. The court decision regulates the personal relations between the spouses. At the request of one of the spouses, the court may retain the surname acquired upon marriage or restore his name before the marriage. The court decision regulates and decides the fate of the property acquired during the marriage. The court divides the property at the request of the spouses, but this is not mandatory. The undivided property passes into the regime of ordinary co-ownership.

After the divorce, the spouses are no longer legal heirs and lose all the effects made by testamentary dispositions made to each other before the time of the divorce. The court decision on the divorce must necessarily regulate the parental rights, personal relations with the children and their support. In the decision, the court must also award the use of the family home to one of the spouses. The Family Code also provides for the right to alimony for the innocent spouse for up to three years after the divorce, if the parties have not agreed on a longer period.

After the divorce decision enters into force, the foreign citizen should go through a procedure for exequatur or recognition of the decision of the Bulgarian court in his own country. Divorces decreed in one EU country are automatically recognized by the other member states, and there is no need to go through a procedure for exequatur of the judgment.

For foreigners who are citizens of EU member states, Regulation No. 2201/2003 of the Council of the EU applies, which regulates the procedure for announcing these court decisions within the European Union.

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