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Marriage law


Marriage law

Marriage law refers to the legal requirements that determine the validity of a marriage, and which vary considerably among countries.


  • Rights and obligations 1
  • Common law marriage 2
  • Marriage restrictions 3
    • Marriage age 3.1
    • Gender restrictions 3.2
      • Europe 3.2.1
      • Australia 3.2.2
      • Further religious conflicts 3.2.3
    • Kinship restrictions 3.3
    • Social restrictions 3.4
      • Polygamy 3.4.1
  • State recognition 4
  • International recognition 5
  • License 6
  • Notice 7
  • Formality 8
  • Ending a marriage 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Rights and obligations

A Ketubah in Aramaic, a Jewish marriage-contract outlining the duties of each partner

A marriage, by definition, bestows rights and obligations on the married parties, and sometimes on relatives as well, being the sole mechanism for the creation of affinal ties (in-laws). Historically, many societies have given sets of rights and obligations to husbands that have been very different from the sets of rights and obligations given to wives. In particular, the control of marital property, inheritance rights, and the right to dictate the activities of children of the marriage, have typically been given to male marital partners (for more details see coverture and marital power). However, these practices were curtailed to a great deal in many countries, especially Western countries, in the twentieth century, and more modern statutes tend to define the rights and duties of a spouse without reference to gender. In various marriage laws around the world, however, the husband continues to have authority; for instance the Civil Code of Iran states at Article 1105: "In relations between husband and wife; the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband".[1]

These rights and obligations vary considerably among legal systems, societies, and groups within a society, [2] and may include:

  • Giving a husband/wife or his/her family control over some portion of a spouse’s labor or property.
  • Giving a husband/wife responsibility for some portion of a spouse’s debts.
  • Giving a husband/wife visitation rights when his/her spouse is incarcerated or hospitalized.
  • Giving a husband/wife control over his/her spouse’s affairs when the spouse is incapacitated.
  • Establishing the second legal guardian of a parent’s child.
  • Establishing a joint fund of property for the benefit of children.
  • Establishing a relationship between the families of the spouses.

Common law marriage

In medieval Europe, marriage came under the jurisdiction of canon law, which recognized as a valid marriage one where the parties stated that they took one another as wife and husband, even in absence of any witnesses.

The Council of Trent (convened 1545–1563) ruled that in the future a marriage was only valid in Roman Catholic countries if it was witnessed by a priest of the Roman Catholic Church or, if obtaining a priest were impractical, by other witnesses. This ruling was not accepted in the newly Protestant nations of Europe, nor by Protestants who lived in Roman Catholic countries or their colonies, nor by Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Common-law marriages were abolished in Pride and Prejudice.[3])

The Marriage Act of 1753 also did not apply to Britain's overseas colonies of the time, so common-law marriages continued to be recognized in the future United States and Canada. In the United States, common-law marriages are still recognized in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and the District of Columbia,[4] and in several Canadian provinces.

All countries in Europe have now abolished "marriage by habit and repute", with Scotland being the last to do so in 2006.[5]

Australia has recognised de facto relationships since the Family Law Act of 2009.

Marriage restrictions

Marriage is an institution that is historically filled with restrictions. From age, to gender, to social status, various restrictions are placed on marriage by communities, religious institutions, legal traditions and states.

Marriage age

The minimum age at which a person is able to lawfully marry, and whether parental or other consents are required, vary from country to country.

In England and Wales the general age at which a person may marry is 18, but 16- or 17-year-olds may get married with their parents' or guardians' consent. If they are unable to obtain this, they can gain consent from the courts, which may be granted by the Magistrates' Courts, or the County or High Court family divisions.

Gender restrictions

Legal, social, and religious restrictions apply in all countries on the genders of the couple.

In response to changing social and political attitudes, some jurisdictions and religious denominations now recognize marriages between people of the same sex. Other jurisdictions have instead "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships", while additional others explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the modern era to give same-sex couples the right to formalize their relation as a registered partnership.[6] As of 2015, twenty-one countries have come to recognize same-sex marriages for civil purposes, namely the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Finland, Ireland, and the United States.[7] Denmark gave same-sex couples the right to marry in 2013, and this right extends to a right to get married in the Church of Denmark, although individual priests have the right to refuse to perform such marriages.[8] On June 26, 2015, Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the ban on same-sex marriages were de jure unconstitutional, which de facto legalized the same-sex marriage process in the United States.[9]


To avoid the use of the term "marriage", some governments provide civil unions, which are open to couples of the same sex, and in some jurisdictions also to those of opposite sexes who do not want to marry, to confer all or a portion of the benefits of married status. Civil unions (and registered/domestic partnerships) are currently recognized and accepted in approximately 30 out of 193 countries worldwide and in some U.S. states. However, in countries where it has been adopted, applications for marriage licenses have far exceeded governmental estimates of demand.[10] Some jurisdictions, such as the nations of Israel, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles, as well as the U.S. state of New Mexico recognize same-sex marriages lawfully entered into elsewhere, while not permitting them to be performed locally. In addition to civil authorities, some religious denominations ceremonially perform civil unions and same-sex marriages, and recognize them as essentially equivalent to other marriages. For example, Lutheran churches in Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and some Lutheran churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, as do Unitarian Universalist churches.


In Australia, de facto relationships are legally recognized in many, but not all, ways,[11][12] with some states having registers of de facto relationships, although the federal government has amended existing legislation to specify that only marriages between a man and a woman will be recognized as "marriages".[13] As a result, the Australian Capital Territory's 2006 Bill to give civil unions identical status and processes as registered marriages, was repealed by the federal government before it came into effect.

Further religious conflicts

These developments have created a political and religious reaction in some countries, including in England, where the Church of England, after long debate, officially banned blessings of gay couples by Church of England clergy,[14] and in the United States, which continues to experience conflicts, based upon religious grounds.

Kinship restrictions

Societies have often placed restrictions on marriage to relatives, though the degree of prohibited relationship varies widely. In most societies, marriage between brothers and sisters has been forbidden, with ancient Egyptian, Hawaiian, and Inca royalty being prominent exceptions. In many societies, marriage between first cousins is preferred, while at the other extreme, the medieval Catholic Church prohibited marriage even between distant cousins.

The marriage laws of all modern countries restrict the relatives a person is allowed to marry, though the degree of prohibited relationship varies widely. In most countries, marriage between brothers and sisters is forbidden. Many countries maintain a standard of required distance (in both consanguinity and affinity) for marriage.

In the United Kingdom, the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907 removed the previous prohibition of a man marrying the sister of his deceased wife. In Australia, marriage with an ancestor or descendant is prohibited, as is a marriage between a brother and a sister, whether of whole blood or half-blood and even if the brother or sister has been adopted.

All mainstream religions prohibit some marriages on the basis of the consanguinity (lineal descent) and affinity (kinship by marriage) of the prospective marriage partners, though the standards vary.

Social restrictions

In the Indian Hindu community, especially in the Brahmin caste, marrying a person of the same gotra was prohibited, since persons belonging to the same gotra are said to have identical patrilineal descent. In ancient India, when gurukuls existed, the shishyas (pupils) were advised against marrying any of guru's children, as shishyas were also considered the guru's children and it would be considered marriage among siblings. However, there were exceptions, including Arjuna's son Abhimanyu's marriage to Uttra, the dance student of Arjuna in Mahabharata. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 brought reforms in the area of same-gotra marriages, which were banned prior to the act's passage. Now the Indian constitution allows any consenting adult heterosexual couple (women 18 or older and men 21 or older) from any race, religion, caste, or creed to marry.

Many societies have also adopted other restrictions on whom one can marry, such as prohibitions of marrying persons with the same surname, or persons with the same sacred animal. Anthropologists refer to these sorts of restrictions as exogamy. One example is South Korea's general taboo against a man marrying a woman with the same family name. The most common surname in South Korea is Kim (almost 20%); however, there are several branches (or clans) in the Kim surname. (Korean family names are divided into one or more clans.) Only intra-clan marriages are prohibited, as they are considered one type of endogamy. Thus, many "Kim-Kim" couples can be found.

Societies have also at times required marriage from within a certain group. Anthropologists refer to these restrictions as endogamy. An example of such restrictions would be a requirement to marry someone from the same tribe. Racist laws adopted by some societies in the past—such as Nazi-era Germany, apartheid-era South Africa, and most of the United States in the nineteenth and the first half of the 20th century—and which prohibited marriage between persons of different races could also be considered examples of endogamy. Similarly, in modern Israel only Jews can marry Jews. In the U.S., many laws banning interracial marriage, which were state laws, were gradually repealed between 1948 and 1967. The U.S. Supreme Court declared all such laws unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967.[15]


  Polygyny permitted and practiced.
  Legal status unknown or ambiguous.
  Polygyny generally illegal, but its practice not fully criminalised.
  Polygamy fully outlawed and abolished and its practice fully criminalised.
  • In India, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Eritrea, polygamy is only legal for Muslims.
  • In Mauritius, polygamous unions have no legal recognition. Muslim men may, however, "marry" up to four women, but they do not have the legal status of wives.

Polygamy—being married to more than one spouse—is illegal in many countries. While accepted by some societies, it is far less common than monogamy.[16]

Polygamy is normally not permitted in most western countries, although some recognize bona fide polygamous marriages that were performed in other countries. In North America, only Saskatchewan allows and sanctions polygamous relationships under legal jurisdictional statute. {s.51 Saskatchewan Family Property Act"} Polygamy is practiced illegally by some groups in the United States and Canada, primarily by certain Mormon fundamentalist sects that separated from the mainstream Latter Day Saints movement after the practice was renounced in 1890.[17]

Many societies, even some with a cultural tradition of polygamy, recognize monogamy as the only valid form of marriage. For example, People's Republic of China shifted from allowing polygamy to supporting only monogamy in the Marriage Act of 1953 after the Communist revolution.

Many African and Islamic societies still allow polygamy. Africa has the highest rate of polygamy in the world.[18] In Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.[19] In India, only Muslims are allowed to practice polygamy.[20]

State recognition

In many jurisdictions, a civil marriage may take place as part of the religious marriage ceremony, although they are theoretically distinct. In most American states, a wedding must be officiated by the justice of the peace in order for it to be recognized. However, priests, ministers, rabbis, and many other religious authorities can act as viable agents of the state. In some countries, such as France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Argentina, Japan and Russia, it is necessary to be married by government authority separately from any religious ceremony, with the state ceremony being the legally binding one. In those cases, the marriage is usually legalized before the ceremony. Some jurisdictions allow civil marriages in circumstances which are notably not allowed by particular religions, such as same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Marriage relationships may also be created by the operation of the law alone, as in common-law marriage, sometimes called "marriage by habit and repute." This is a judicial recognition that two people who have been living as domestic partners are subject to the rights and obligations of a legal marriage, even without formally marrying. However, in the UK at least, common-law marriage has been abolished and there are no rights available unless a couple marries or enters into a civil partnership. In all cases, a married person cannot become eligible for common law timeframe until divorced from any previous spouse.[21]

In some cases couples living together do not wish to be recognised as married, such as when pension or alimony rights are adversely affected, or because of taxation consideration, or because of immigration issues, and for many other reasons. Usually, consent forms the basis of such relationships that are not really marital, with authoritative property laws being inapplicable.

The status in the eyes of one authority may not be the same as for another. For example, a marriage may be recognised civilly, but not by a church, and vice versa. Normally a marriage entered into in one country will be recognised in other countries. Sometimes, however, a religious ceremony or a marriage entered into in one country is not recognized by another, such as a same-sex marriage.[22]

International recognition

Some countries give legal recognition to marriages performed in another country under the Hague Convention on Marriages (1978).[23] For this to apply, both the country of marriage and the country where recognition is sought need to be members of this convention.

If the country of marriage is not a member of the Hague Convention on Marriages (1978), then the marriage documents will need to be certified following the Apostille convention. This certification is usually performed in the country of marriage by the embassy of the country whose recognition is sought.


Marriage License from the State of Georgia

A marriage license is a document issued, either by a church or state authority, authorizing a couple to marry. The procedure for obtaining a license varies between jurisdictions and has changed over time.


In many countries there is a requirement to give notice of an impending marriage to the community so that objections to the marriage can be raised. This custom was in place as a mechanism to necessitate the consent of parents as well as the wider community.


"Treasure legal marriage, fight illegal marriage!", a slogan in the village of Xinwupu, Yangxin County, Hubei

While some countries, such as Australia, permit marriages to be held in private and at any location, others, including England, require that the civil ceremony be conducted in a place specially sanctioned by law (e.g., a church or register office), and be open to the public. An exception can be made in the case of marriage by special emergency license, which is normally granted only when one of the parties is terminally ill. Rules about where and when persons can marry vary from place to place. Some regulations require that one of the parties reside in the locality of the registry office.

In the United States, there is no law or religious dictate that says the bride must take the groom’s last name. However, approximately 70% of Americans agree that a bride should change her last name.[24][25]

Ending a marriage

A marriage ends when one partner dies. In addition, a marriage may also be ended by divorce or annulment. Divorce laws vary significantly by country. The only countries that do not allow divorce are the Philippines and the Vatican City, an ecclesiastical state, which has no procedure for divorce. Countries that have relatively recently legalized divorce are Italy (1970), Portugal (1975), Brazil (1977), Spain (1981), Argentina (1987),[26] Paraguay (1991),[27] Colombia (1991* [28])[27] Ireland (1996), Chile (2004)[29] and Malta (2011).

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Leach, Edmund (1968). Paul Bonannan and John Middleton, ed. Marriage, Family, and Residence. The Natural History Press.  
  3. ^ "What I have to say relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his officers; to own the truth, with Wickham!" [2]
  4. ^ "Marriage Laws of the Fifty States, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  5. ^ Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006.
  6. ^ Jon Gunnar Arntzen: homofili Store Norske Leksikon, retrieved 29 March 2013 (Norwegian)
  7. ^ "The Freedom to Marry Internationally". Freedom To Marry. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  8. ^ NTB: Historisk lov i Danmark: Nå kan Steen og Stig gifte seg TV2, 7 June 2012 (Norwegian)
  9. ^ Halimah Abdullah, Pete Williams. "Landmark: Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Legal Nationwide". NBC News. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Ford, Richard (2006-12-05). "Gay men are in much more of a hurry to 'wed' their partners". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  11. ^ Law Society of New South Wales - De facto relationships?
  12. ^ "Same sex couples". 
  13. ^ MARRIAGE AMENDMENT ACT 2004 NO. 126, 2004 - SCHEDULE 1 - Amendment of the Marriage Act 1961
  14. ^ "House of Bishops issues pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships".  
  15. ^ Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
  16. ^   See also: Kaingang.
  17. ^ "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah",
  18. ^ Social and Cultural Issues PDF (116 KiB)
  19. ^ Diouf, Nafi (May 2, 2004). "Polygamy hangs on in Africa". The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  20. ^ Muslim Marriage Act, 1956
  21. ^ "Divorce & Separation Law". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Family Policy - Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Families
  23. ^ "Convention On Celebration And Recognition Of The Validity Of Marriage". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  24. ^ "77 Interesting Facts About Weddings". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  25. ^ Bermann, Jillian. "70% Say Brides Should Take Husband’s Name". USAToday. August 11, 2009. Accessed: November 29, 2009.
  26. ^ "Divorce Is Now Legal in Argentina but, So Far, Few Couples Have Taken the Break". Los Angeles Times. 
  27. ^ a b Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family Under Latin. American Dictatorships and Democracies, by Mala Htun, pp 102
  28. ^ divorce between 1976-1991 was allowed only for non-Catholics
  29. ^ "Chile introduces right to divorce".  

External links

  • Lord Hardwicke 1754 Marriage Act
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