State wants to move marriages, divorces online

Vital Statistics Registration.
Vital Statistics Registration. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

While in the normal run of things the presence of both parties to either a marriage or a divorce is required, coronavirus considerations have prompted the state to weigh up conducting these remotely as well.

According to a draft formulated by the Ministry of the Interior, both marriages and divorces are planned to be worked out as an comprehensive "event service", but this requires the possibility to submit the responding applications electronically. For this to be plausible, legislation needs to be changed, since currently submitting applications requires both parties to be in person, on-site.

An e-service is planned, where, besides submitting the application, it would be possible to choose a suitable date and location, and also, the registrar of a marriage can decide whether the contract will be registered more officially and simply, or with a ceremony too.

If an individual decides to change their surname when marrying or divorcing, it will be possible to do so too; they can present an application for this via the e-environment.

This needn't mean that there are no options to come to register for marriage or divorce on site. "During creating and developing the service, we can't forget every individual's right to speak eye to eye with the state," stands in the document.

The Ministry of the Interior justifies this service with the fact that it will make the process easier, i.e. the public will not be dependent on the opening hours of a registry office, church or other institution.

Currently, a marriage application can only be submitted in person to a clergy member or at the Vital Statistics Department in Tallinn. The law does not allow for an exception; for example, a proxy application cannot be made through an applicant's representative.

The requirement of personal presence is justified to ensure the marriage is both the real and free will of both parties, and to provide the married persons with the necessary explanations of the rights and obligations associated with that union. When entering into a marriage with a notary, the requirement of personal presence can also be replaced by remote certification.

For divorce, spouses are required to file a joint written application in person at the vital statistics department As an exception, a spouse who is unable to appear in person at a vital statistics office for good reason may submit a separate notarized application. The possibility of submitting a divorce application digitally is not provided for by current law.

Currently, the Ministry of the Interior has the intention to develop draft legislation, which has been sent for approval. For a more detailed analysis of the marriage and divorce event service, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has organized a public procurement, the result of which - a detailed analysis of both services - should be completed this spring.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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