Not very many Dominicans actually marry, most just live together. Those who do marry tend to be from the middle and upper classes, probably because of the cost involved. To be honest is makes little difference as those who live together say they are married and call each other husband and wife. I remember standing next to my now husband when we had been living together for a few months and he was telling someone he was married, and I flipped my lid telling him I had no idea he was married, until he explained to me that he was married to me. However, if you do legally marry, the status on your identity card is changed from single to married, and that carries something of a status symbol.
Getting married is a fairly straightforward process, usually happening in front of a judge at the local council offices. The judge will also go to wherever you want, should you want a wedding in a different venue, usually at a hotel or on the beach.Until recently you could only get married in church if you were a Catholic, but the law has been changed to allow certain Evangelical churches to perform legal weddings as well. You need to provide a whole range of paperwork including birth certificate, passport or identity card, divorce papers or a certificate sworn in front of a notary public to say you are single.
According to the law women cannot get married until 10 months after they have been divorced, in case they are carrying their ex husband’s child, although this is often ignored in the case of foreigners marrying.
The actual wedding service is similar to ones in the UK, but the woman is given away by a man called a padrino, who is usually someone important or rich, as the padrino is expected to contribute towards the cost of the wedding. My padrino was the Senator for Santo Domingo and although we did not ask him for a contribution, he gave us a microwave. The fact that he was there meant that almost everyone invited turned up, which is not usual. People do not RSVP to the invitations so you have no idea how many people will turn up, and I have been to weddings where 120 were invited and catered for, and only 12 actually attended. Terrible waste of money and so sad for the wedding couple.
The best man is a woman, a madrina, and she is also supposed to make a contribution. Hence often when you are asked to be a padrino or madrina you need to give it careful consideration! In addition there are the usual array of bridesmaids and page boys. At my wedding service, given that the padrino was an important man, the judge was determined not to miss anything out of the serivce, and I had to say “I do” or “yo accepto” about 20 times. Given that my Spanish was not that good at the time, and given the noise from the howling gale on the beach, I have absolutely no idea what I acceptoed at all.
The most important thing at the wedding is the cake, which has its own little gazebo. Dominican wedding cakes are made of sponge and soft icing so in the heat they tend to sort of slither all over the place, which causes a fair degree of trauma. After the ceremony there is dancing and drinking, but no speeches and no food. The food comes right at the end of the night, because as soon as the Dominicans have eaten they leave. If they eat early then the wedding will come to a pretty swift end. The other problem with Dominican weddings is that they are usually held at around 5pm when it is cooler, but as is normal for everything in this country, they always run late. Even if the wedding party and guests are there, you often have to wait for the judge. Overall Dominican weddings are great fun with the most important part, as at all Dominican parties, being the music and dancing and of course the drinking.
Lindsay de Feliz lives in the middle of nowhere in the Dominican Republic with her Dominican husband, one stepson, 8 cats and 3 dogs. She was formerly Marketing Director of various financial companies in the City of London, and left the UK around 11 years ago to travel the world as a scuba diving instructor. She eventually came to the Dominican Republic on a 6 month contract, fell in love with the country and its people and stayed. Lindsay has a blog www.yoursaucepans.blogspot.com and is currently writing a book about her experiences over the last 10 years.