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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Before Tying the Knot, Make Sure to Cross the T's

MTA young couple getting married in an Orthodox ceremony at the Ascension Church.
You don't have to be out long on a summer afternoon to see it: a white limousine bedecked with flowers, ribbons and two golden rings on top, followed by a caravan of cars, all honking their horns jubilantly.

If the warm weather and frolicking newlyweds have you thinking about tying the knot, Moscow has enough beautiful churches, romantic vistas, and great restaurants to ensure that your wedding will be a memorable one. The road to the altar, however, can take a few inconvenient twists and turns if you are uninformed about the finer points of Russia's marriage laws.

While not terribly strict, the marriage laws are a good deal more complicated than those of many other countries, especially when one of the spouses is a foreigner.

"You don't just walk up to a counter, swear to this and that and walk out husband and wife," said Los Angeles native Henry Beylin, who married in Moscow in June last year. "There's definitely a lot of paperwork involved, and they'll keep sending you from one place to another until you get it right."

Dutch national Richard Van Rossem, whose September wedding date was secured after no small amount of hassle, agrees: "Expect to stand in many lines, waiting for different stamps and papers. They are crazy about stamps and papers here."

Stamps, papers and lines may be an unavoidable part of getting married anywhere, but knowing which documents you need, and where you need to file them, can make things considerably easier.

The marriage process, which generally takes four to six weeks, begins and ends at the State Registry Office, or ZAGS. The only ZAGS that handles foreign and mixed marriages is Wedding Palace No. 4 on Butirskaya Ulitsa, and ideally you will not have to go there more than three times. Take note: ZAGS does not have a web site, and callers will be told that the only way to obtain information is to actually come in person. Lines are long and begin to form up to an hour before the Wedding Palace opens, so it's best to arrive early.

The first visit -- or, in ZAGS lingo, consultation -- serves to inform you about which documents will be needed to get things started. While the details may vary in individual cases, a Russian visa of any kind, a valid passport (with the first page translated into Russian and notarized), valid registration, and a marital status paper (sometimes referred to as a Certificate of Non-Impediment) are essential. The marital status paper can be obtained in the country of your citizenship or through a local embassy. It should then be legalized by attaching an apostille, which is simply an internationally valid notary stamp, and translated into Russian.

According to a ZAGS deputy director, the consultation is the most important part of the process. "Most people end up running back and forth because they did not speak to us first and find out exactly what they needed to have," said the director, who asked not to be identified. "There can be a lot of paperwork, but we don't let someone leave until we see understanding in their eyes."

Once the paperwork is in order and you have paid the 100-ruble ($3.35) application fee, it's time to visit ZAGS again and get a wedding date. Waiting time between application and actual registration can take anywhere from one to two months, according to Russian law, but this period may sometimes be shortened if there are extenuating circumstances, such as an expiring tourist visa.

Since ZAGS is usually overbooked, you will have a better chance of getting the date that you want by choosing a weekday, when there will be fewer couples getting married.

The second visit may also be a good time to start preparing for your wedding celebration. Conveniently, many services that you may need on the big day can be booked through ZAGS, including limousine and riverboat rentals, photographers and even ballroom dancing lessons.

The third, and hopefully final trip to the Wedding Palace will find you decked out in a beautiful wedding dress or an elegant tux. You've filled out all the papers, gotten all the stamps, and a friendly ZAGS official stands nearby, ready to guide you through the gates of matrimony. After you exchange vows, you will be given a government wedding certificate, which gives your marriage international legitimacy, and sent on your way.

Then your Moscow wedding celebration can officially begin. Head down to Red Square for a photo op and eat, drink and dance the night away at your reception. And when champagne corks pop and glasses clink, you can toast to the end of a lot of paperwork and the beginning of your life together.

ZAGS, 17 Butyrskaya Ul., Tues. to Sat. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. 285-1960.

Apostilles obtained at the Justice Ministry, 21 Novy Arbat, Mon. to Fri. 9:30 a.m. to noon (document receiving), noon to 1 p.m. (document issuing).

Certified translation centers: Bureau of Interpreters (23 Leningradsky Prospekt, 250-0317), Khors Service (44 Studencheskaya Ul., 249-8663), Referat (10/12 Basmanny Tupik, 263-1855).