Expressing Civil Law Concepts in Common Law Terms: estado civil

Many bilingual dictionaries translate estado civil as “marital status,” and often that is exactly what it means. But translators should bear in mind that in Spain (and in Spanish-speaking civil law jurisdictions) the expression estado civil is a much broader concept than “marital status” and, depending on the context, may refer to matrimonio, filiación, edad, incapacidad judicial declarada, nacionalidad or vecindad civil. When correctly translated as “marital status,” estado civil refers to whether a person is single (soltero/a), married (casado/a), widowed (viudo/a), separated (separado/a) or divorced (divorciado/a), or whether the marriage has been annulled (nulidad matrimonial). In the context of filiación (“filiation” or the “parent-child relationship”) estado civil refers to one’s status as padre/madre or hijo/hija. With respect to edad (“age”), one may be menor de edad (a “minor” or “infant,” now called simply “child” in England and Wales) or mayor de edad (of “legal/full age”), that is, persona que ha alcanzado la mayoría de edad (“person who has reached the age of majority”). Capacidad (“legal capacity”) includes the status of capaz (“competent”) or incapaz (“incompetent”) in the case of persons adjudicated incompetent by a court of law (incapacitados judicialmente). Under the civil status of nacionalidad, one may be español (a “Spanish national” or “Spanish citizen”), extranjero (a “foreign national” or “alien”) or apátrida (a “stateless person”). And vecindad civil refers to one’s region of habitual residence, which determines submission to general civil legislation (the Código Civil) or to specific local law (Derecho foral o especial). (For additional comments on vecindad civil see the post on May 27, 2916).

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