Official advises: get divorced or bride deprived of documents

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Photo: Erakogu

The marriage of two foreign students in Tallinn took a tragi-comic twist as vital statistics office staff, having proclaimed them husband and wife, a week later proceeded to advice that they file for divorce.

«The initial emotion was to weep, but then I decided to apply humour. Irony and black humour help get over anything,» says Oksana, From Kiev, Ukraine and in her twenties.

Filipp, her husband, is born in Pskov, Russia. The young people have a background rather international, having lived in various places of the world yet meeting in Tallinn three years ago as students of Baltic Film and Media School. Planning to continue in Master’s studies and to apply for citizenship once eight years of residency are fulfilled was why, in mid-March, they opted to get married at the vital statistics office at Pärnu Highway.

With the certificate of marriage, Oksana’s new double family name obtained legal power as chosen by her while submitting the application. Pursuant to Estonian law, Oksana now had a month to have her documents remade for the new name. Most crucial of these was the Estonian resident’s ID-card; should this be outdated, Oksana would be hindered using the public transport and bank services, and in worst case scenario her residence permit would come into question.

The two passport curse

Here, the red tape mess begins. Though the marriage is entered into Estonian registers, to have the ID-card with new name this is not enough; rather, at a Police and Border Guard Board bureau she needs to present identity document of country of birth – and that with the new name. In any usual instance, this would be issued by an embassy in Tallinn, but not with Ukraine.

Namely, Ukraine has two passports in use – internal and external. The embassy only renews the external ones, but cannot do so without an internal passport already renewed. The latter can only be applied for in Kiev and that takes up to some two months. For a person daily studying and working in Tallinn, the time is not available.

Returning to the vital statistics office for help, the young couple learned that in the given situation, to change the documents, it would be beneficial for Oksana to again assume the old name. «They said they can only alter names of foreigners in two cases: marriage and divorce. Thus, the only way to get your name back is file for a divorce,» describes Oksana.

The officials came up with a truly technocratic solution: pay €26 state fee to get the divorce, wait a month until it enters into force, apply to get married again and again pay the state fee. Two months later, the young people would be married again as if nothing ever happened.

That was the moment Oksana and Filipp got the feeling they had become pawns in bureaucratic machinery of two states, to escape which the solutions would be dumb or dumber still.

On top of the dreary outlook of having to get divorced for technical reasons, the offer raised lots of other questions. Such as: how will their sudden divorce and remarriage read to police officials checking the registers, when five years later they apply for Estonian citizenship.

«That day we called a lawyer and had we not done that we’d probably be divorced already,» says Oksana. The jurist worked his way through the laws of both countries and ascertained that essentially both Ukrainian embassy and the vital statistics office diligently kept the letter of the law. Even so, advising for divorce, they did not fully stand for the interests of the young couple.

In reality, Estonian state might issue Oksana the alien’s passport – the grey passport – while she gets her documents. Among others, the latter may be issued to people who for some reasons are not able to obtain documents from home country. True, this requires that the young couple proves they did everything in their power to obtain the documents. Probably, Oksana will file a related application very soon.

Unethical device

Tallinn vital statistics office head Karin Kask said the advice to get divorced was indeed unbecoming by the official, while motivated by sincere desire to help the young couple. «The varying laws of various countries, and people in between – this is our daily problem,» said Ms Kask. «A mere official will not break through the maze of these laws, and if she does she offers a dumb solution like this. I don’t like it at all that she did a thing like this.»

According to Ms Kask, their office has seen people get married from 72 countries. Often, the officials involved are in a very difficult situation not having access to laws of these countries. She said agencies in the very Ukraine and Russia were the hardest cases, often failing timely confirmations and delivery of identity documents. The only solution is for those about to get married to find out early on what it takes, from both sides, to get the documents in order.

As assessed by interior ministry, when advising divorce the vital statistics office violated official ethics. «An advice like this is not competent and, due to official ethics, a vital statistics official ought not to have given advice like that,» said the ministry’s population operations department head Enel Pungas.

As assessed by Ms Pungas, applying for the grey passport may indeed solve Oksana’s problem, but the decision whether the case at hand provides a basis for it or not will be up to Police and Border Guard Board to make.