What’s the difference between civil vs symbolic ceremonies in Italy?
While many couples may understand the distinction between legal marriage (or civil marriage) and religious marriage, it seems that it is not crystal clear to everyone how the two play out when getting married abroad, so we asked legal paperwork expert Italian wedding planner Francesca Fantoni to explain the meaning of the different ceremonies to couples getting married in Italy.
civil ceremony Siena Italy

CIVIL CEREMONY IN ITALY

A civil ceremony is a legal wedding ceremony resulting in legal binding marriage recognized by the law.
Italian law requires civil ceremonies to be:
  • held in an authorized location (town hall or other designated venue);
  • performed by a government official (mayor or other appointed official).

PAPERWORK

The paperwork to meet the statutory requirements for a civil ceremony in Italy depend on nationality.  Consequently, it is highly recommended that couples who want to get legally married in Italy seek assistance from an experienced professional.  Do not rely on information published on the internet!  A lot of the websites are either old, or the information outdated, or what they say is just plain WRONG.
Wedding Celebrant in Florence

A SYMBOLIC CEREMONY IN ITALY

A symbolic ceremony is any other wedding ceremony whether religious or non-denominational.  It is not a legal ceremony, therefore a symbolic ceremony requires no paperwork under Italian law.

Symbolic vs Civil Ceremonies in Italy

Depending on the religion, a symbolic ceremony may be combined with a legal ceremony but the two processes remain separate and distinct – a religious marriage is not automatically a legal marriage.  Italian law establishes the paperwork requirements for a civil ceremony in Italy (see above), while the religious organization (church) or non-denominational celebrant performing the symbolic ceremony may or may not require any kind of paperwork.
Some of the religions that the Italian government has authorized to combine a legal ceremony in Italy with a religious ceremony in Italy are:
  • the Catholic church
  • the Union of Jewish Communities
  • the Union of Christians, Baptists, and Evangelists

Frequently asked questions

Q:  If a minister can preside over both a religious and civil ceremony, doesn’t that make them the same thing?

A:  Absolutely not.  They remain separate and distinct, despite some overlap in bureaucratic processes.

Q:  Is a Catholic marriage automatically a legal marriage?

A:  No, it isn’t.  A religious marriage is never automatically a legal marriage.  The Catholic church requires the couple provide proof of civil marriage before the church will perform a Catholic ceremony.  This is a requirement the Catholic church establishes but it is separate and distinct from the civil ceremony itself.

Q:  Can I have a civil ceremony at my private villa in Italy?

A:   Yes and No.  Italian law requires civil ceremonies be held in locations authorized by the local government.  These locations are usually historic town halls or monuments, and other prestigious villas, castles, or palaces that have won public bids to become civil ceremony venues.
In order to hold a legal wedding at your villa, the civil ceremony can be combined with a religious ceremony under authorized churches (see the example above).  Note that each church may have their own restrictions on where they will perform ceremonies.  For example, the catholic church will only perform religious ceremonies in consecrated catholic chapels or churches.