Everything you need to know about marriage in American Samoa

28 Aug 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in American Samoa 01

Every year, over 200 marriages are registered in American Samoa, a U.S. territory located in the South Pacific Ocean. The territory is popular for its natural attractions, tuna fishing, and wealth of marine biodiversity. Both American Samoans and spouses from other countries have the freedom to perform any type of wedding ceremony they prefer. However, civil marriages are the only types of marriages that are legally binding and recognized by law in the territory. Other forms of marriage, like religious, traditional, and symbolic marriages, are also popular, but they hold no legal grounds. Before a religious marriage is performed, the couple must have obtained a marriage certificate from their previous civil ceremony. 

In many religious organizations, the minister of the religion may not grant the couple permission to marry unless they provide valid marriage certificates. Cohabitation is not recognized or protected by law in American Samoa. For couples to enjoy marriage entitlements and rights, they will be required to officially register their marriage. Like in most other countries, weddings are a big deal to American Samoans. The territory’s culture places a strong emphasis on family and traditional values. Weddings in American Samoa often involve large celebrations and traditional customs, such as a ceremonial exchange of leis and the presentation of a "bride price" to the bride's family. Many families in American Samoa also include traditional rituals and ceremonies in their weddings, such as the presentation of a "talking chief" or "talking warrior" to speak on behalf of the groom's family. 

Weddings in American Samoa are usually grand events and are considered important events in the lives of the couple and their families. The families of the bride and groom usually play active roles in the marriage preparations and the actual ceremony. In some families, it may take several months before the official marriage date is chosen. The rest of the article will touch on the popular marriage traditions in American Samoa as well as the laws and rights guiding their practices. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages

In American Samoa, a civil marriage is performed by an authorized marriage officer, such as a judge or a justice of the peace. This type of marriage holds international validity, and to begin the process of getting married civilly in American Samoa, both partners must make an official marriage application where their intention to marry in the country will be declared. Upon the successful completion of the application form by both partners, the marriage officer will provide a list of documents that must be provided in order for the couple to receive a marriage license. Most of the documents required are usually to prove the identity of the bride and groom and ensure they are truly who they claim to be. 

Foreign partners may be required to provide some additional documents obtained from concerned authorities in their home country. The minimum age for marriage in American Samoa is 18 for both male and female spouses. Therefore, both partners getting married must have reached this age. Only in special circumstances can a spouse between the ages of 16 and 18 marry. For a minor to perform a legal civil marriage in American Samoa, they will be required to provide written parental or guardian consent. In American Samoa, there is usually a waiting period of 3 days after obtaining a marriage license before the couple can legally get married. This waiting period is in place to ensure that both parties have had enough time to consider their decision and that there are no legal obstacles to the marriage, such as prior marriages that have not been legally dissolved. The waiting period starts from the day the license is issued, and once the three days have passed, the couple can proceed with their civil ceremony and get legally married. 

During this time, the registrar may request some additional documents from the spouses if needed. After the completion of the waiting period, the marriage license will be issued to the couple. The couple may then schedule a civil ceremony with a judge or justice of the peace, who will officiate the ceremony and sign the marriage certificate. The marriage license usually has a validity period of 30 days, and within this timeframe, the partners will be required to perform their civil marriage and become legally married. If the marriage license expires, the couple will be required to begin the marriage process from the beginning. Civil marriages in American Samoa are usually quite short and formal. They typically last for about 20 minutes. All foreign documents must include an apostille, which is an authorization stamp serving as evidence of their legitimacy. These documents must be translated by an accredited translator into Samoan or English before their final submission. The paperwork to be submitted by both partners is stated below.

Documents Required

  • An American Samoan ID card or a valid passport (for foreign spouses)
  • Government-issued birth certificates must be submitted by both spouses.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Separated or widowed spouses must provide either of these documents as proof that they legally dissolved their previous marriage.
  • Both partners must provide two valid witnesses who are unrelated to them.
  • Spouses under the age of 18 will be required to provide written parental or guardian consent.

Religious Marriages 

The predominant religion in American Samoa is Christianity. Less than 2 percent of the total population are non-Christians, who either have other religious beliefs or no affiliations at all. Church weddings in American Samoa are usually elaborate occasions. The bride and groom will be required to make an official announcement of their marriage in the church. In most cases, the bride and groom invite the whole congregation to celebrate with them on their special day. 

It all depends on the preferences of the bride and groom. Some may prefer a small wedding. Church wedding ceremonies often include a lot of ceremonial rites, and both partners will be required to show proof that they are both baptized Christians. There may be prenuptial classes performed by the priest or pastor of the church before the scheduled wedding day.

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Marriage traditions in American Samoa

Exchange of Leis

This is a traditional American Samoan ceremonial rite where the bride and groom exchange leis. These are flower garlands that are used to symbolize the couple's commitment to each other and their new union. This tradition is still quite popular in American Samoan weddings to 

Large Weddings 

Wedding ceremonies are very important to American Samoans, and a lot of guests are usually invited. In some weddings, invitations may be sent to more than 100 guests, and it is not uncommon for the guests to bring two or three family members and friends along.

Very Big Cakes

American Samoan weddings are often lavish, and the couple will need to cater for the large number of guests in attendance. Unlike most other wedding ceremonies where there is usually one cake, the case is different in American Samoa. There may be up to three giant cakes. There will also be multiple courses of food and drinks to ensure everyone is fully satisfied as the reception proceeds.

Same-sex marriages 

In American Samoa, homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities have been legal since 1980. However, there is no recognition for same-sex marriages in the territory. A new bill was passed in December 2022 that allows American Samoan homosexuals to perform their marriage in other jurisdictions. These marriages hold legal validity in the territory. Marriage benefits such as adoption are not enjoyed by same-sex couples in American Samoa.

Polygamous marriages  

In line with US federal law, polygamous marriages are also prohibited in American Samoa. The laws and customs of this territory are based on traditional American Samoan culture, which does not allow such marriages. Even in rural areas, there are not many cases where polygamy is being practiced in American Samoa.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

American Samoa is an overseas territory of the United States of America; therefore, there are some similarities in the marriage laws of this territory and those of the United States. Persons interested in contracting marriage must not be related to one another within the fourth degree of consanguinity. A man may not marry his grandmother, aunts, mother, stepmother, sister, etc. A woman may not marry her grandfather, uncles, father, stepfather, brother, etc. The groom and bride are permitted to contract either a civil marriage or a religious marriage. These forms of marital unions are legally recognized under the law. Customary marriages are not legally recognized, but they are still considered valid and binding within the American Samoan community. 

Many families prefer to follow the traditional customs and practices of the culture rather than the legal requirements of the government. Both civil and religious marriages must be performed by an authorized marriage officiant or other authorized religious official and registered with the government. Under civil and religious marriages, both parties must obtain a marriage license before marriage can take place. The groom and bride must be eligible for marriage. They may have attained the legal age for marriage, which is set at 18 for both men and women. However, if one of the parties has not yet attained the legal age, they can still get married, but they must be able to provide written consent from both parents. 

In the absence of parental consent, consent from a legal guardian and the approval of a judge are applicable. Minors who are at least 16 years old may be allowed to get married, but they must have the approval of a judge along with the written consent of both parents or legal guardians. The groom and bride must give their free and willing consent to marriage. According to the law, marriage must be contracted voluntarily; therefore, the use of force or threats to contract marriage is prohibited. The groom and bride must be in a sound state of mind to be able to contract marriage in American Samoa. 

All marriages must be registered in order to have a valid status. Polygamy is not allowed in American Samoa. Neither the groom nor the bride is allowed to marry more than one spouse at the same time. Both parties must ensure that there is no legal impediment to marriage, and by law, they both must be single at the time of marriage. If any of the spouses is widowed, he or she is required to present the death certificate of the former spouse, and in the case of divorce, a copy of the original divorce decree must be presented.

Rights

Anyone who is legally married in American Samoa is entitled to rights and benefits that are made available only by virtue of marriage. The husband and wife have the right to enjoy civil liberties, citizenship rights, rights to secure land and non-land assets, and the right to exit marriage. The groom and bride have the right to be legally recognized as the legal guardians of the children. They both possess the right to exercise parental control over the children when necessary. 

The husband and wife have the same right to work and receive equal payment for that work. They are both entitled to enjoy equal workplace rights. In marriage, the husband and wife have the right to fair and respectful treatment from one another. Spouses enjoy equal rights to civil liberties such as the right to participate in social activities outside the confines of the home, the right to move around freely without having to seek permission from one another, etc. Couples have equal rights to be actively involved in politics and government without any restrictions. In marriage, the couple is granted equal economic and financial rights. 

They both have the right to an equal inheritance at the death of one of the spouses. They have the right to use, own, and discard property regardless of the chosen marital regime of property. The husband and wife have the same right to initiate divorce. The husband and wife can decide to file for divorce based on mutual agreement or on the fault of one of the spouses. Couples enjoy equal rights to file for custody of their children, but the parent that best represents the interests of the children is granted custody while the other parent gets visitation rights.

Costs

Anyone who wishes to be married in American Samoa must include the cost of applying for and obtaining a marriage license, the cost of the ceremony, the fees of the marriage celebrant, etc. in the total cost of getting married in American Samoa. The cost of a marriage license is around $10, and a marriage celebrant is not expected to charge anything more than $10 for officiating the ceremony.

A wedding reception costs more than the actual wedding celebration, and it is advisable for couples to reach out to wedding planners to find out the average cost of getting married in the territory. According to research, the average cost of hosting a wedding ceremony in American Samoa is estimated to be anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. It could be more depending on various factors such as the financial ability of the couple, their choices, etc.

Duties

The household duties and responsibilities of couples in American Samoa are jointly carried out by the husband and wife. Married couples have certain legal obligations and responsibilities to one another, such as providing support and making decisions about the welfare of the family. They have a duty to love one another, protect the family, and live together in the chosen matrimonial residence. They must be faithful to one another, committed to their marriage, and refrain from engaging in extramarital affairs. The wife is responsible for the care of the home.

She is obligated to assume the role of a mother and wife and be the primary caregiver for everyone in the family. The wife has an obligation to be hospitable and approachable. The husband is responsible for the finances of the home. He is obligated to provide for the needs of the family, such as food, clothing, and shelter. The husband and wife are responsible for properly managing the family's resources. The needs of the children should also be met as often as possible by the couple. In the event of divorce, couples still have duties towards their children that must be fulfilled.

Final Thoughts 

American Samoa is a U.S. territory, and while it has its own government and legal system, U.S. federal law also applies in the territory. This implies that if a couple wants to be legally married in American Samoa, they must adhere to the laws set by the American Samoa government as well as the U.S. Federal Law.

The process of getting married in American Samoa is very straightforward. There are no strict requirements, and couples will only have to submit some documents. The documents submitted must be certified copies, and they must carry the correct details of both partners. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in American Samoa.

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