Everything you need to know about marriage in Bhutan

2 Aug 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Bhutan 01

Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a South Asian country famous for its spectacular landscapes, fortresses, and monasteries. Bhutan is quite popular and is visited a lot by foreigners due to the many vibrant festivals celebrated across the country. Every year, thousands of marriages are performed by both foreigners and native Bhutanese. Marriages before the twentieth century were arranged between families. In contemporary Bhutan, the marriage age for men and women was quite different. There was a huge disparity, which did not promote gender equality. The marriage age for women in Bhutan was sixteen years for females and twenty-one years for males. However, this changed over the years. 

A lot of marriages in Bhutan are not based on mutual love and affection between both partners. Child marriages were once very prevalent in the country, with spouses entering marriages before the minimum legal age and maturity. This was mostly to the detriment of female spouses in marriages. About 26 percent of all marriages are entered by spouses below the age of 18, and 6 percent of spouses in Bhutan enter marriages before the age of 15. The most prevalent locations for child marriages in Bhutan are Samdrup Jongkhar, Dagana, Sarpang, and Mongar. The median marriage age in the country has increased over the years. 

More Bhutanese are spending more time in school, pursuing higher levels of education before marriage. There are regions where spouses do not enter marriage until they reach the age of 26. Marriages in Bhutan go way beyond the exchange of vows and rings. Marriage is an important occasion that includes various religious rites and ceremonies. A marriage certificate has numerous advantages for married couples in Bhutan. As you read on, you will learn more about the different types of marriages in Bhutan, as well as the laws and rules that govern them. Let’s get started.

 Civil marriages 

Civil marriages performed in Bhutan are recognized in the country and in all other countries around the world. This type of marriage is officiated by a state-authorized registrar and performed at the local registry office of the couple. Civil marriage registration in Bhutan is performed in person by both spouses, and a marriage certificate must be obtained before a couple can be regarded as being officially married. The legal minimum marriage age in Bhutan is 18 years for both spouses, and the two partners must have reached this age before getting married. A foreign spouse must reach the age of 18 even before contracting a marriage in Bhutan, even if the marriage age in their own country is lower. 

Both partners must declare that they are marrying of their own free will and consent. Forced marriages under threats, coercion, and fraud are not allowed in Bhutan. To begin the marriage application and registration procedure, both spouses are required to go to their local civil registry to be informed of the documents they must submit. The registrar is required to make a public notice of marriage, which may be published in a local newspaper. The notice of marriage is often made public for several days, and during this period, the registrar checks to ensure nobody comes up with an issue such as a previous marriage that may prevent the marriage from taking place. 

Spouses who were previously married are required to provide evidence that their previous marriage was legally dissolved in Bhutan or a foreign country. Both partners are required to provide witnesses during the registration. After the marriage license is obtained by the couple, there is a validity period during which both spouses must perform the marriage ceremony and obtain a certificate of marriage. A marriage order from the high court may be required to get married in Bhutan. All the marriage documents provided must be in Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan. Spouses may have their documents translated by an accredited translator.

Also, the documents must be apostilled with an authorization stamp. Foreign spouses may request an interpreter during the marriage ceremony. Marriage cannot be performed by spouses who are related to each other by a direct link or affinity. The concerned authorities may carry out background checks on spouses to ensure all the information and documents submitted are accurate and legitimate. Both partners must ensure that they are medically compatible by undergoing medical examinations to demonstrate that they have no underlying diseases before they can marry in Bhutan. The documents that must be provided by spouses getting married civilly are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or valid passport
  • An order from the high court that was recently obtained within three months prior to the marriage ceremony
  • Government-issued birth certificates must be submitted by both spouses.
  • An authenticated certificate stating the marital status of the two partners must be provided.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of these documents must be provided by previously married spouses who are now separated or widowed.
  • Affidavit of single marital status
  • Both partners must provide two unrelated Bhutanese witnesses.

Religious marriages 

Religious marriages are also widely performed in Bhutan. The majority of Bhutanese citizens are Buddhists, accounting for approximately 85 percent of the total population. The second largest religious belief in Bhutan is Hinduism. The population of Christians in Bhutan is less than 1 percent. Most marriage celebrations are performed by the Hindus because the Buddhists do not see marriage as a religious ceremony that must be performed based on religious rites. 

Some Buddhists in the country do not even perform religious marriages at all. Once a civil ceremony is performed, there is often a wedding feast or reception held afterwards where the couple gets to have a good time with their family, close friends, and other guests. The Hindus have several marriage traditions that have been practiced for many years and are still being practiced in weddings. In some rural communities, couples are required to perform a ceremony in accordance with their religious beliefs before they are regarded as being married in the country. Wedding feasts in Bhutan often last for several hours and both families involved may send different invitations or jointly depending on their preference. Most wedding feasts take place during weekends. 

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Marriage traditions in Bhutan

Thrisor 

In a traditional Bhutanese marriage, a monk and head lama are required to perform the Thrisor wedding ceremony. This often begins upon the arrival of both spouses, and it is performed as a way of purifying and cleansing the minds of the bride and groom and shielding them from evil.

Exchange of rings

It is customary for the bride and groom to share wedding rings during their ceremony as a way of sealing their love forever. The wedding ring is supposed to be worn at all times by both spouses, and it symbolizes love and affection between the partners. Some couples begin wearing their wedding rings even before the official marriage ceremony.

Lhabsang 

This is a marriage ritual that is unique to the people of Bhutan. In this ceremonial rite, the monks burn incense and make offerings to their local deities while chanting the required mantras. This is a pre-wedding ceremonial site that is performed before the arrival of the bride and groom at the temple. This wedding ritual is still performed to

Same-sex marriages 

In Bhutan, homosexuality has legal status. Both male and female homosexuals are allowed to perform same-sex sexual activity. However, they are not allowed to get married. Bhutan does not recognize any form of marriage, registered partnership, or civil union between spouses of the same sex. Members of Bhutan's LGBT community face legal challenges that non-LGBT members do not.

Polygamous marriages 

Under the civil and customary laws of Bhutan, polygamous marriages are not allowed; however, this type of marriage is still performed in the country. In ancient times, all forms of polygyny used to be popular, and even women used to have multiple husbands in polyandry. In modern times, there are not many cases of polygamy in Bhutan.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The laws of marriage in Bhutan are a little different from those of other countries in the world. Under the Bhutanese laws of marriage, marriage by proxy is allowed in Bhutan. If one of the spouses cannot be at the venue of the marriage due to extenuating circumstances, the marriage would be allowed to take place. Anyone who wishes to be married in Bhutan has the privilege of contracting a civil marriage agreement. Other forms of marriage, such as religious and customary, are permitted in the country, but they do not have any legal value. Marriage, according to the law, can only be between a man and a woman, implying that the law does not recognize polygamy, which is common in the country. 

In particular, women are allowed to practice polyandry, where she is allowed to marry more than one husband at the same time, but this practice is no longer common in Bhutan. The law also states that anyone who wishes to be married must be eligible for marriage, meaning that the groom and bride must have the capacity to contract marriage and there must not be any legal impediment to marriage. Couples must be in a stable and sound state of mind to be able to enter into a marriage agreement. Any spouse who is not mentally stable is not permitted to marry. In accordance with the law, anyone who wishes to be married must give their full consent to marriage. Consent must be given based on the couple's decision and not through threats or violence. Any marriage violated through the use of force or violence is considered void. 

The groom and bride must meet the age requirement to be able to enter into a marriage contract in Bhutan. The legal age for marriage in the country is 18 years for men and 16 years for women. No exceptions are made for minors to contract marriage in Bhutan. The law also states that before marriage can take place, the husband and wife have to be either unmarried, divorced, or widowed. In the case of divorcees or widows, the law demands that a decree absolute of divorce or a certificate of death of the former spouse be submitted. If anyone has been divorced three times for misconduct in marriage, he or she would not be granted a marriage certificate when he or she tries to contract a new marriage. Anyone who wishes to be married must not share any form of affinity with his or her spouse.

Rights

Couples in Bhutan have equal rights in marriage; however, couples in mixed marriages do not enjoy the same rights as other couples in Bhutan. A lot of limitations and restrictions are placed on the rights of mixed couples in Bhutan. The groom and bride have access to various rights in Bhutan; they have the right to exercise political, social, economic, legal, civil, and so on. Under the political rights, the husband and wife have the right to vote and be voted for, and they have the right to participate in any political activity outside the confines of the home. Couples are also granted the right to run for public government offices without any restrictions. 

They are conferred the right to exercise legal rights. Under Bhutan's marriage act, both the husband and wife have the right to divorce if their marriage fails. They can sue and be sued. Couples are granted the right to exercise their economic rights. Both the husband and wife have the right to win financial assets and properties without any limitations. The couple does not need the permission of one another to open or close a bank account. Both the husband and wife have the right to own property, regardless of the marital regime of property chosen at the time of marriage registration. Spouses have the right to legal guardianship of the children and the right to exercise parental authority even in the event of divorce. They both have the right to receive custody of the children; the wife is entitled to the custody of the children until they turn nine, and afterwards the children can decide who they wish to live with.

Costs

Weddings in Bhutan are more than just exchanging vows or having a pretty dress; they are an important event, and it costs a lot to host one. The average cost of a wedding in Bhutan is estimated to be around 100,000 Bhutanese Ngultrum. It could cost more depending on how wealthy the couple is and what they hope to achieve with the ceremony. 

The cost of a wedding photographer is around 20,000 Bhutanese Ngultrum, excluding the cost of a videographer. The cost of food and drinks is also very expensive due to the large feasts that are always available at weddings. It costs around 3000 Bhutanese Ngultrum or more to rent hotel accommodations in Bhutan, depending on the location of the event.

Duties

A typical Bhutanese household divides the duties and responsibilities of the home between the husband and wife according to their gender roles. The wife is obligated to obey her husband and ensure that she attends to all his needs. The husband, on the other hand, has a duty to ensure that his wife is well taken care of by providing constant maintenance for her and the children in the home. The welfare of the children should be the most important responsibility of the couple.

They are obligated to provide a good moral and educational upbringing for the children as well as ensure that they grow and develop in a conducive environment. The husband and wife are responsible for providing for the material and nonmaterial needs of the family. They are obligated to jointly contribute to the health and comfort of the family. The husband and wife must be able to provide basic amenities such as food, clothing, and shelter for the family. It is the joint duty of the couple to decide on the family's domicile. The moral, traditional, and religious inclinations of the family are the responsibility of the couple.

Final Thoughts 

Bhutanese weddings are mostly celebrated in grand style. Marriages in this country involve more than just the exchange of rings and vows. The families of both the bride and groom usually play roles in the pre-wedding marriage rituals. Bhutanese marriages have a monogamous nature. Most of the marriages in the country are between one man and one woman. However, there are cases of polygamy in some rural areas of Bhutan.

In the past, cross-cousin marriages used to be common in Bhutan, but this type of marriage is less common now. The majority of weddings are performed by a religious leader, except those that take place in the civil registry, which must be conducted by a state-authorized marriage registrar. The full marriage registration process in Bhutan usually takes two weeks to a month, depending on the civil registry office. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Bhutan.

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