As far as bureaucratic nightmares go, at least it was an interesting one.
My Mexican partner and I left our apartment just before sunrise armed with all the documentation we believed we needed to secure the services of a juez, or judge, as an official who conducts civil marriages, among other duties, is known.
Just after the 8:00am opening time, we arrived at a bare-bones registry office in the Mexico City borough of Benito Juárez, where we were quickly attended to by a polite lady who sat us down in her office and looked through the wad of paperwork we had brought in.
She quickly identified the first problem: the main marriage application form – which we had downloaded from an official Mexico City government website – was not the right one. We would instead have to provide exactly the same details on an extremely similar, if not identical form, of which, of course, the registry had only one copy.
No need to worry – a few print shops that likely survive on the photocopy trade generated by unprepared registry-goers are dotted along the very same street.
However, that wasn’t the only problem that the registry official identified.
She also told us that we were missing a document called Certificado de No Registro de Deudor Alimentario Moroso, which serves as proof that neither of the parties wishing to enter into marriage are in arrears for the upkeep of any children they might have.
The certificate, we were told, couldn’t be issued at the registry we were currently at but could be obtained at literally any other registry in any of the 16 boroughs of the capital.
So, after a quick trip to a copy shop we taxied to another registry in the historic center of Coyoacán, located just a few kilometers from the Benito Juárez registry on Parque de los Venados, which means Park of the Deer. It has no real deer but does boast a statue of one.
Despite the morning traffic, we arrived at the Coyoacán registry fairly quickly and painlessly obtained the certificates we both required (turns out that neither of us has been hiding offspring from each other).
After a quick stop to caffeinate, we returned to the Benito Juárez registry, confident that we would now have no problem locking in a juez for a marriage ceremony on a Saturday in the middle of April.
My partner had been to the registry late last year and was told to return in January in order to meet with the juez and firm up the date.
After a long wait (we were told the judge was occupied although a glance into her office appeared to suggest otherwise) we were ushered into the juez’s domain and seated before her.
After a perfunctory flick through our documents she declared, “Ustedes realmente se quieren casar?” (you really do want to get married?), which we interpreted as a sign that our paperwork was now in order.
So, she said, when’s the big day?
We told her the date and explained it was a Saturday, to which she quickly retorted that jueces don’t normally perform marriages on a weekend, and that in her case it was completely out of the question because she had recently had knee surgery and Saturday had been set aside as her main rehab day.
Picking up her walking stick for emphasis, she said: “Con todo gusto les caso de lunes a viernes” (I’ll gladly marry you from Monday to Friday) before specifying the hours during which she could offer her services.
After telling her that we had already made arrangements for a Saturday ceremony, she suggested that we try our luck at another registry in Benito Juárez, the borough in which we are getting married. (I had believed that there was only one registry per borough – it turns out there are several.)
After my partner made a quick call to her brother that confirmed that he and his wife had been married on a Saturday by a juez from Registry No. 10 on Patriotismo Avenue – which was one of the registries suggested to us – we embarked on yet another taxi journey through the traffic-clogged streets of the Mexican megalopolis.
We didn’t initially tell the lady who called us into her office that we had come from another registry but simply informed her of what we hoped to achieve – find a juez for a Saturday service in April.
That shouldn’t be a problem, she told us, before dropping a bombshell: “We don’t actually have a juez who performs marriages here, we use the one at Registry No. 51. Let me give her a call.”
Registry 51 – that’s where we had just come from. We quickly told her that we had already seen the judge she was referring to, explaining that she had in fact recommended that we come here, apparently oblivious that she was this registry’s marriage juez of choice.
Flummoxed, the registry official decided to make the call anyway and a minute later had confirmed what we had told her: knee operation, rehab, Saturday wedding, not on your life.
“I have another idea,” the official told us. “I know a judge in Polanco Would you like me to call him?”
She explained that conducting a marriage service in a borough which is not the one where the juez is based comes with a hefty price tag but after four hours, three different registry visits, too many taxi rides and one growing headache each, we responded, “Sure, make the call.”
“He can’t do it,” she said as she came back into her office a few minutes later. “He’s busy that weekend, and the one before.”
Australian expat Peter Davies is a senior writer at Mexico News Daily and lives in Mexico City. Stay tuned for the sequel.