When learning legal terminology in a bilingual context one of the first pitfalls encountered are so-called “false friends,” words or expressions that appear to be cognates, but are actually unrelated in meaning. Many years ago I set about identifying the “Top 40 False Friends in Spanish-English Legal Translation.” As the list grew I had to change the title to “101 False Friends.” In my collection I now have well over that number and will be sharing some of them in this blog. To be fair, many are only partial false friends that may actually be cognates when used in one branch of law, while perhaps qualifying as false friends in another legal practice area. And in some instances the cognate may simply not be the most appropriate rendering in legal contexts.
disolución de matrimonio; dissolution of marriage
These expressions are sometimes false cognates. Under Spanish law disolución de matrimonio (or disolución matrimonial) is a broad term encompassing the three legal means by which a marriage may be terminated: disolución de matrimonio por muerte, por declaración de fallecimiento de uno de los cónyuges o por divorcio. In contrast, in many English speaking jurisdictions the expression “dissolution of marriage” is used almost exclusively as a synonym (or perhaps a euphemism) for “divorce,” and may be limited to that meaning. Thus, “dissolution of marriage” may often be correctly rendered in Spanish as divorcio while, depending on the context, the appropriate English translation of disolución de matrimonio may either be “divorce,” “termination of marriage by death” or “termination of marriage by a judicial declaration of death (of a missing spouse).”