What are the Differences Between Pareja de Hecho and Marriage in Spain?

The differences between marriage and pareja de hechoOne of the most common petitions we get at COMO is for information regarding civil unions. Call it what you wanna call it – pareja de hecho, pareja estable no casada or unión de hecho – civil union numbers in Spain have jumped in the last decade, and it’s a common step for foreigners hoping to achieve permanent residency and the right to work.

But what differentiates it from marriage, if anything?

Both matrimonio and pareja de hecho laws are subject to family law in Spain and are open to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. However,  there are large differences between the two in regards to your rights as a foreigner. Perhaps one of the most obvious differences is that marriage is a national law as laid out in the Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE), whereas pareja de hecho laws depend on the Autonomous Community in which you and your partner live and their individual decrees.

The other important differences have to do with adoption, inheritance and taxes, though it should be noted that each region in Spain will have slightly different interpretations of pareja de hecho. When possible, it’s always best to consult your autonomous community’s official ruling if you’re considering or already form a pareja de hecho.

Overarching Similarities

Both marriage and civil unions have the same basic foundations: to give order and rights to stable partnerhsips between two people who do not intend to terminate the relationship. You must prove both parties are of legal age, not already in a marriage or pareja de hecho and not blood relatives of first or second degree (oh, and you can’t have been convicted of the murder of a former partner – we’re dead serious).

You should also enter into the relationship freely and of sound mind.

Both options allow you, as a foreign excomunitario, to work and enjoy social security benefits, among other rights granted to family members of EU citizens. Married couples are referred to as cónyuges, whereas those who are pareja de hecho are called conviventes in Spanish law.

The Fine Print: Typically speaking, marriage will give you more rights as a non-EU citizen – you can apply for a passport sooner, which will grant you the right to vote in elections. Here are a few other privileges granted to married partners:

  • Defunción: Should your partner die without a will or testament, the married partner, called the supervivente or survivor, has the right to property or possessions. If you’re in a pareja de hecho, you may have to prove how long you’ve been registered before you can claim such rights. High-risk jobs, such as policemen and soldiers, are exceptions to the rule (and be aware that there are small differences if no will is involved, depending on your comunidad)
  • Widow or Widower’s pension (pension de viudedad): with marriage, it’s automatic (so long as the pension is not higher than Social Security’s established limit) whereas pareja de hecho will require at least five years of partnership in your comunidad‘s registry to claim a pension.
  • Taxes: Married couples are allowed to file jointly; but in most cases parejas de hecho have separación de bienes and tick the soltero box on their returns.
  • Honeymoon time: Sorry, PDHs – you don’t get your 15 days paid vacation after the resolución of your paperwork, unless you negotiate it yourself. Married couples do have the right to enjoy two weeks off.

What’s not different?

  • Children in common: both marriage and pareja de hecho clearly lay out the rights and obligations of the parents and the laws which protect minors. The differences come into play when there is a divorce or ruptura of the pareja de hecho.
  • Adoption: Absolutely no restrictions here, so form your pair and adopt a pet or a baby!
  • Pensión compensatoria: Alimony is not automatic with pareja de hecho because finances are considered separate. However, if both of your names appear on a deed or proof of purchase your comunidad will have the final say in how the couple must divvy up items acquired during your time together.

Source: Legalitas

Is pareja de hecho right for you, or should you head straight for the altar? 

Unfortunately, we can’t answer that question for you, but we can say that sometimes pareja de hecho is faster and simpler… sometimes the opposite. If you’re considering PDH, nab our brand-new, all-inclusive eBook, Pareja de Hecho in Spain: A Step-by-Step Guide to Legalizing Your Love.

In it, you’ll find information regarding documentation you’ll need to present and how to obtain it, comunidad autónoma-specific information for each of Spain’s 17 regions (and a few cities), FAQs, sample timelines and contact information for registries in every rincón in Spain. It’s chock-full of useful information but easy to use and up-to-date with the newest PDH laws.

Read more about it on our Digital Publications page, or head over to eJunkie to purchase it directly!

Author: Como Consulting Spain

Cat and Hayley are relocation specialists who can help you move to, live in and work in Spain. We'd love to hear from you! hola@comoconsultingspain.com

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  1. I’m living in Granada and would like to know, if my boyfriend and I do pareja de hecho, is it possible to marry later? We may want to move to the States and I heard the PDH is not recognized there. Is the only option for marriage (recognized abroad) to marry in a church? We are not religious.

    Post a Reply
    • Most definiely, Joanne! I did PDH in Andalucia and then got married in the US in 2015 (in a church, but that’s not important). You can either apply for a fiancé visa and marry in the US, or marry in Spain and apply for the J-1 visa.

      Post a Reply
      • Thank you for replying so quickly! Do you HAVE to marry in a church in Spain to be considered married or is there another Civil Union type marriage that you know of? Also, what happens after 5 years working under a PDH? Because I keep reading that you can work up to 5 years. Thanks again!

        Post a Reply
        • Joanne,
          In Spain if you choose to marry you can do so at a church or have a civil ceremony at the Central Registry or Town Hall where you live. Or, you can ask someone from the government to attend a ceremony at the location of your choosing.
          As for the “5 year” question. The first residency card you are granted as the family member of an EU citizen is valid for 5 years. After that time you renew and are given a card that is valid for 10 years.

          Post a Reply
  2. Hello,
    I would like to ask, me and my girlfriend is both new in spain can we apply for Pareja de hecho? Is it possible for us but both of us are non-EU?.

    Thank you

    Post a Reply
    • You can register a Pareja de Hecho as non-EU citizens in some regions of Spain but it will not help either of you gain legal residency or the right to work.

      Post a Reply
  3. Hi
    I would like to ask i have been here 5 months and im gonna pareja de echo
    Is that possible i can apply

    Post a Reply
    • Malik,
      We would need to know where you are from, where you are applying and who are you applying with in order to answer your questions – but our suggestion would be to download our eBook and find out for yourself!

      Post a Reply
  4. Hi! I’m debating on where to get married! I already have PDH here, so I’m looking at getting married in the states so my partner can move there whenever we like in the future. How is that process? The fiancé visa looks daunting. Any info would be helpful!

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Ash,
      Cat had her PDH in Spain and got married in the US. Send us an email and we’ll try to help you out! That being said, we don’t have any experience with the finance visa.

      Post a Reply
  5. Good morning, guys!

    First of all, thank you very much for your information, it’s been very useful, but I still have a couple of doubts I haven’t managed to solve.

    I’m Spaniard, born in Barcelona, and I’m coming back to Spain after a 2 year stay in Australia, where I met the love of my life! Now we are dealing with all the possibilities we have to go back there and have a work permit (tarjeta de residencia) for her as soon as possible.

    As far as I know, for her to get this card, we need to be in a civil union together (this way she’ll be my relative), and here comes my doubt: If we become a “De facto couple” in Australia, do we have to go through the same process again once we’re in Spain? Or there is a way make our Australian union valid in Spain and avoid a few steps?

    I’m only wondering if it’s worth it to go through the process of becoming a De Facto Couple in Australia so we make it easier when we get to Spain or, as opposite, it’s just a waste of time as we’ll have to do it again in Spain.

    I’ve been doing some research but I couldn’t find anything relevant and I’m a bit lost as you can see!

    Thank you in advance, cheers!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Miki, for your situation, we would suggest an immigration lawyer. Cataluña does not officially recognize pareja de hecho so it’s taken on a case-by-case basis.

      Post a Reply
  6. Hello,
    I had a Pdh in spain that ended and now I am living in the US..I am wondering what if anything I need to do if I want to marry again here in the states..the pdh was never terminated legally.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Amber, you shouldn’t have to do anything unless you marry a Spaniard and wish to register your marriage there. The US technically has no record of marriage from you.

      Post a Reply
  7. Pls I need a fast reply I have been In pareja de hecho for close to two years na i already have my resident na i want to put my patron on another address alone with out my partner what we happen to my document

    Post a Reply
    • Sofia, the only reason you’d really need to be on the same padrón is for your tarjeta comunitaria renewal after five years. That said, the local office could investigate (though it’s unlikely!). Good luck!

      Post a Reply
  8. Hi, I’m irish and my boyfriend is Venezuelan. I am planning to move to Spain and was wondering if I moved there would we be able to apply for PDH? And if we did would it be legal in all of Europe or just in Spain? Thanks

    Post a Reply
    • Hi There,
      As an EU citizen, you are only elegible to apply for PDH with a non-EU citizen (as a means for the non-EU citizen to gain residency) in a handful of regions in Spain. PDH is only valid in the autonomous community where it was applied for and approved and residency is only valid within Spain.

      Post a Reply
  9. Hi, if the 23 year-old partner is a Spanish citizen and the couple obtain PdH,
    will the citizen and her family lose the large-family (they are 5 children) benefits that are provided for her family currently?

    Post a Reply
    • According to the law which regulates familias numerosas, the general rule is that children count as dependents up until they are 21 (or 25 if they are students) and as long as they are single. So in this case, the family would lose the numerosa status.

      Post a Reply
  10. Hello! Me and my boyfriend are considering PDH. He is a Swedish citizen and he recently bought an apartment near to Marbella. (more precisely, La Mairena, Elviria, Malaga). Since he took a loan from Spanish bank, he got NIE number. I am from Serbia (non EU country). Will we be able to get PDH, even though he does not have a residency in Spain? Thank you so much, in advance.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Stasha,
      You and your partner can apply for Pareja de Hecho in Spain, but if your partner does not have residency in Spain he cannot then transfer any rights to you as his family. He should do that first!

      Post a Reply
  11. Hi! I am Malaysian and I just “moved” to Spain hoping to stay here as my Spanish girlfriend is from Barcelona. Is it possible to apply for Pareja de Hecho given that I am from a non-EU country and does Catalunya recognise this status?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Ana, Cataluña does recognize pàreja de hecho, but we would recommend using a lawyer because each ajuntament has its own regulations for the status. Good luck!

      Post a Reply
  12. Hi,

    I am applying for the pareja de hecho with my girlfriend of 3 years (I’m from the EU, she’s not), and not to sound negative starting out, but I’d just like to know how difficult it would be to reverse or annul the Pdh if it ever came to that in the future?


    Post a Reply
    • Usually “dando de baja” or annulling a civil union is quite easy. Make sure and check for the rules in your particular comunidad autonoma for details!

      Post a Reply
      • Hello i have a question would i lose my residency if i broke up with my partner

        Post a Reply
        • HI Ralph,

          This depends largely on how long you have been register with your partner and whether or not you’re working. If you’re unclear, feel free to write us back!

          Post a Reply
  13. Hello! I’m unsure if you have already answered this but I just wanted to clarify! I am living in Spain with my partner who is from Extremadura in Spain. We have plans to possibly move to the UK in June to begin working there. I am from the USA. He already has a NIN (social security number) in the UK due to working there last year.
    My question is if we do the PDH will this allow me right to work in the UK? Or should I explore other options such as working visas instead.
    Thank you so much for your help!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Aryion, every country has different rules regarding the validity of civil unions, so you’d do best to ask UK immigration. Good luck!

      Post a Reply
  14. Hi,
    My common law partner and I have separated, after living in Barcelona for 8 years. He will remain in Spain and we have agreed my 7-year old daughter and I will move back to the USA. I was a stay at home mom, due to our daughter needing to learn four languages and my partner’s job of extensive travel. What form of child support and/or alimony is he to pay if we were ‘pareja de hecho’ and not married? Thank you!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Rebecca,
      Your situation is quite unique, especially considering that you will be moving back to the States. You should definitely consult a family law lawyer to help you navigate this.

      Post a Reply
  15. Hello,
    One …if you are illegal in Spain, would you still be able to do the PDH and be able to fly internationally and obtain a work and study visa?
    Two …is the average process of PDH quicker than that of the matrimonio?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Monica,
      If you are illegal it is possible to apply for PDH in *some* regions of Spain, but not all of them. This is outlined in our PDH eBook. Obtaining a work and student permission is an entirely different process, but they both start at the visa stage from your home country.
      Processing times for both marriage and PDH vary widely, depending on where you apply and what the demand is like at that time of year. If you are elegible to apply in a smaller town or village, wait times will be much shorter for both PDH and marriage than applying in bigger cities and capitals.

      Post a Reply
  16. Hello,
    Thank you very much for this excellent post.

    I want to ask about the cancellation of Pareja De Hecho. Is it a easy process or is it similar to applying for a divorse ? Does both the party have to agree on the cancellation or can just the resident cancel the Pareja De hecho without the approval of the dependent person ?

    Post a Reply

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