Costa Rica News – Faced with complaints of “nonexistent” or “marriages of convenience” every other day, the Civil Registry (Registro Civil), under the control of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE), is creating an investigative unit to delve into such marriages.
According to the Dirección del Registro Civil records, from 2010 to date, the TSE has filed for the annulment of some 740 marriages.
In 2014, there were 183 requests and so far this year there have been 114.
The head of the Civil Registry, Luis Bolaños, explained that a marriage is annulled when it is uncovered that a person is married without their consent.
For example a stolen or lost cedula (Costa Rica identity card) is commonly used by unscrupulous notaries to register a marriage, in exchange for a fee. In other cases, the Costa Rican willingly provides his or her cedula, for payment, to be used in a marriage and later recanting or claiming, in filing their complaint, they had no knowledge.
The Sala Segunda (Second Chamber of the Supreme Court) last week ratified the annulment of marriages of convenience, following an appeal by the Attorney General (Procuraduría in Spanish).
Bolaños added that in about 15 days the creation of a special internal unit that will investigate these cases will be implemented.
Marriages of Convenience
Marriages of convenience are mostly used to modify the immigration status of a foreigner in Costa Rica, that is to say a foreigner illegally in the country and/or wanting a fast track to residency or naturalization.
Through the services of a notary, the foreigner will pay a Costa Rican (directly or through the notary) to sign on the dotted line, allowing the registration of the marriage. With the marriage certificate, the foreigner can now apply for residency.
Divorce follows, in most cases, after residency or naturalization (min. 2 years) are met.
Problems arise when the Costa Rican wants to enter into a legitimate marriage and/or register the birth of child (not of the foreigner), finding that they are married to someone else.
Filing for a divorce is simple, but, in some cases, the shame of revealing to a spouse to be or family member of having taken part in a marriage of convenience leads to the claim of fraud, the use of their identity without consent.
Divorce and Annulment
The distinction between a divorce and an annulment of a marriage of convenience can have different effects on the foreigner, who became a resident and or citizen.
In the event of a divorce, the residency or naturalization status of the foreigner continues. That is to say, a foreigner who entered into a marriage, waited the minimum requirement of 2 years of marriage before divorcing, will continue to be a citizen or be eligible to be a citizen*.
In the event of an annulment, the marriage never existed, thus any benefit – residency or naturalization, for example – obtained by the marriage is also nonexistent.
Important here is in how the annulment is reached; if by mutual consent, pretty much nothing more, however, if by court action, as the Costa Rican filing the complaint, the TSE investigating and Attorney General filing for an annulment, the consequences can be quite different.
* To obtain naturalization by marriage, a foreigner has to be married to a Costa Rican for a minimum of 2 years and have accumulated a stay in the country (legal or otherwise), confirmed by the immigration service (in the past the foreigner has to obtain a certificate from the immigration serivce and file it with the Registry – now it is all done by an electronic link between Migracion and the Registro), of 2 years or more. The foreigner can apply at any time after the requirements are met, even if the marriage is ended in divorce.
Disclaimer, this is not meant to be legal advice. If you have questions on the legality of marriage, divorce and annulment in Costa Rica, please consult a lawyer.