Everything you need to know about marriage in Cambodia

24 May 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Cambodia 01

Cambodia, officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a Southeast Asian country popular for its cultural heritage. Thousands of marriages are performed every year in the country by Cambodians and other spouses from the rest of Asia and other countries in the world. There are only two types of marriage that are recognized and protected by the laws of the country, namely civil and religious marriages. They both hold equal legal grounds, and the type of divorce to be conducted by spouses is all up to their personal preferences. 

Customary and traditional marriages are also performed in the country; however, they hold no legal grounds. Spouses who do not conduct either a civil or religious marriage are regarded as cohabitants and are not eligible for any of the rights or benefits available to married couples. The minimum marriage age in the country is 18 years, and this applies to both male and female spouses. In some cases, spouses below this age may be allowed to marry if there is parental or guardian consent. In Cambodia, marriages between family members and other close relatives are generally not allowed; however, marriages between cousins are permitted. 

Arranged marriages used to be very popular in the country, and they are still being practiced now. Some families marry within their own clan, thereby having cousins marry each other as a norm and custom. In Cambodia, the average age at which men marry is 22 years, while that of women is 18 years. A major reason for these ages is that marriage is viewed as a union that should be celebrated later in life. In fact, Cambodians perceive people who are older than 25 and unmarried as embarrassments in their family and in society at large. Continue reading to find out more about marriages in Cambodia.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are legally binding in Cambodia. Civil marriages in the country usually involve the submission of several documents as well as waiting periods to check their validity before a marriage certificate is obtained. The male and female spouses are required to visit the Cambodian embassy or consulate to begin the formal marriage application and registration process. Civil marriages are usually performed by an authorized registrar or notary, and they take place in the civil registry. Various registries generally request the same type of documents; however, there may be some variations in the additional paperwork that may be requested from spouses in special cases. 

The spouses are required to submit a written request in the form of an application to the Khmer, and during the marriage ceremony, the law states that two witnesses must be in attendance. Both spouses are required to take an oath of marriage during the marriage registration, and they must have shown that they are not prohibited from getting married. Foreign spouses who are planning to conduct a marriage in Cambodia must also be equally eligible for marriage in their home country. A spouse whose home country's minimum marriage age is 20 marries at the age of 18 in Cambodia, which may cause problems in the marriage. 

Both spouses must be single at the time of contracting the marriage. Also, a marriage ceremony can only be performed between a man and a woman. Anything out of this box is not recognized in the country. In Cambodia, the chief or member of the People's Committee of the commune or section registrar office is required to make a publication to announce the oncoming marriage and make the whole public aware. The publication often involves major personal details about the bride and groom as well as their respective families. The family name, age, name of spouses, occupation, and residence are the most important information that is published in the public declaration. 

There is usually a waiting period of ten days after the publication is made. At the end of the ten days, if no objections or issues arise, the civil registry officer then approves the marriage applications of the spouses, and the marriage registration procedures are allowed to proceed. The marriage certificate is issued to the couple by the Chief of Commune, and in some cases, the civil registry officer may be present during the wedding ceremony. Spouses who are from another country are required to ensure the documents are all in the official language spoken in Cambodia, Khmer. Also, during the ceremony, foreign spouses may need to provide an authorized interpreter if they do not speak Khmer. The documents that both spouses must provide are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • Both partners must provide certified copies of their birth certificates.
  • A valid means of identification, such as a national identity card or valid passport. Foreign spouses may obtain this at the embassy or consulate of their home country in Cambodia.
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage This is also referred to as an "affidavit of marital status" and is to show that both spouses are single and not in any relationship with anyone else at the time of marriage.
  • Certificate of profession. This may be requested from some spouses to show their monthly income and determine if they are financially capable of marrying.
  • Medical certificate. Both spouses must be medically fit in terms of physical and mental health before getting married.
  • Marriage application form.
  • Divorce or death certificates. This applies to widowed or separated spouses.

Religious marriages 

Religious marriages performed in Cambodia hope to have legal grounds. Cambodia is generally referred to as a Buddhist country. This is because the people living in the country are predominantly Buddhist. More than 90% of the total population of the country is Buddhist, with most of them practicing Theravada Buddhism. Other religions such as Christianity, Islam, animism, Judaism, etc. make up the rest of the religious percentage in the country. Marriage in Buddhism is perceived differently when compared to other major religions in the world. 

The religion considers marriage to be a secular act or affair rather than a sacred one. Buddhists, unlike other religions, do not typically hold elaborate wedding ceremonies. They are required by the country to follow all the civil laws that have been provided by the government. In some cases, some Buddhists may organize a small gathering that will be attended by some close family and friends to celebrate the marriage. However, this has nothing to do with religion or sacraments.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Cambodia 02

Marriage traditions in Cambodia

Hai Goan Gomlom.

This is a pre-wedding ceremonial rite performed at Khmer weddings in Cambodia. Here, the groom is accompanied by his family to the bride's house to present various types of gifts to her and her family. The custom is for the bride's family to reciprocate the kind gesture.

Gaat Sah

This is a unique Cambodian marriage tradition that is still being practiced today. Gaat Sah means the cutting of hair, and the custom is for the bride and groom to get a haircut before the marriage ceremony. The haircut symbolizes cleanliness and how both spouses are getting rid of their past and opening themselves up to new possibilities in their marriage.

Sien Doan Tea

This is a ceremonial rite that involves the use of traditional tea during the wedding ceremony. Here, the Khmer couples present tea to their ancestors' spirits, and this ritual is performed as a way to invite the spirit of the ancestors to the marriage for home and blessings.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are prohibited in Cambodia. The country does not recognize marriage between two people of the same sex; however, there is a registry program that is recognized under the laws of the country known as the declaration of family relationship. The status of homosexuality is legal in the country, but same-sex couples have no marriage rights, such as adoption, in Cambodia.

Polygamous marriages 

The constitution of Cambodia forbids polygamous marriages. Men and women are not allowed to have multiple partners. Whichever way a marriage is solemnized, either civilly or religiously, it must be between only one man and one woman. Citizens of the country who practice polygamy may face some legal challenges.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Cambodia 03

Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws 

Marriage in any part of the world is regulated by various laws, rules, and regulations, whether religious, customary, or civil. These laws and requirements have to be fulfilled before marriage can be officially recognized as legal. There are two types of marriage recognized in Cambodia, namely religious marriage and civil marriage. Both have a legal value, meaning that couples can decide to have a religious marriage, which is often a Buddhist ceremony, and it would be considered legally binding without having to contract a civil marriage. The law does not recognize de facto or informal unions; it sees such unions as invalid because before a man and woman can be recognized as husband and wife, they must have had the intention to contract marriage, and people in informal relationships do not have such an intent. 

The law allows the practice of homosexuality; however, it does not make provision for marriage between people of the same sex. Foreigners who wish to enter into marriage with Cambodians must have an average monthly income of at least $2,500. This law was put in place to reduce the rate of human trafficking. The legal age for both male and female marriage is 18 years, but exceptions are made for couples who are 16 years old and wish to contract marriage with parental consent, as well as minors in special circumstances such as pregnancy. The husband and wife must give their voluntary consent to marriage before it can be considered legally binding.

They both have to be free from any form of threat or force before giving their consent to marriage. They must also be in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage. There must be at least two witnesses at the time of marriage, and they must be able to provide valid identity documents before marriage is declared legally binding. Foreigners must not be older than 50 if they wish to enter into marriage with Cambodians; there must be no impediment to marriage as well, and they must be eligible for marriage in their home country before they are allowed to contract marriage in Cambodia.

Rights

The law also specifies the rights available to married couples in the country. When a marriage fails, both the husband and wife have the right to file for divorce. Couples can choose to finalize divorce on mutual grounds or in special cases such as illnesses with no hope of recovery or desertion. They both have the right to own property and to inherit property; at the time of contracting marriage, the couple has the right to decide which marital regime of property they wish to contract marriage under; and at the demise of one of the spouses, the property and estate of the deceased spouse automatically go to the surviving spouse. They both have the right to decide on the number of children they both wish to have and the moral inclination of the family.

The husband and wife have the right to work and earn meaningful pay for work without facing any discrimination as a result of their marital status. They both have the right to be regarded as the heads of the household. Spouses can decide to run for official government positions without any restrictions, as there are a number of offices that require their occupants to be married. Both the husband and wife have the right to confer their nationality on their children if they are born outside the country. They also possess the right to perform their duties as the legal guardians of the children and exercise their parental rights when necessary.

Costs

Marriage is a big deal in Cambodia, and it is considered to be one of the most important events in a man's life. Traditionally, weddings in Cambodia are expensive and extravagant. The long days of celebration and very long list of guests are responsible for the high cost of getting married in the country. An average wedding in Cambodia costs around $20,000 for comfortable families, while rich families spend as much as $70,000–$80,000 and very influential families spend nothing less than $700,000 for a wedding in Cambodia. This cost covers all expenses for a large number of guests. 

An average venue for at least 50 guests costs around $7000 to rent. The food for the invited guests costs around $20 per guest, and the total cost is determined by the total number of guests invited. The flowers and decorations for an average wedding cost around $1000; this cost is relative to the location and number of invited guests. The cost of the wedding cake, invitations, and photography can cost as little as $500 and easily increase to $5000. 

The couple's attire ranges in price from $300 to $1,500, depending on where it is purchased. Bridal hair and makeup are often expensive, and in Cambodia, they cost around $2000. The total cost of a wedding can be as low as $2,000 and can easily escalate to as high as $200,000; it all depends on the financial ability of the couple and their family.

Duties

The duties of the husband and wife are divided based on their respective gender roles in the home. Cambodian society is dominated by men; therefore, an average family would be patriarchal. Spouses have a duty to be loyal and committed to one another. The wife is expected to be responsible for the management of the home and her in-laws; she is obligated to respect and take care of her in-laws. 

The husband is tasked with the responsibility of providing for the family; he is obligated to provide for all the material needs of the family. Even in cases of separation, spouses have an obligation to the children in terms of child support. The husband and wife must also provide a conducive environment for the growth and development of the children. They are also required to provide a proper educational upbringing for the children.

Conclusion 

Cambodia has straightforward marriage laws. Arranged marriages used to be popular in the country, where the respective families of the bride and groom were in charge of all marriage procedures and matchmaking; however, this has greatly changed. Most marriages now are performed for love and do not necessarily involve families as much as they did before. Most spouses may just request the blessings of their parents before getting married.

Cambodian wedding ceremonies are usually extravagant events that involve a lot of ceremonial rites. It all depends on the traditional background of the bride and groom getting married as well as their religious associations. Upon the submission of all required documents, couples obtain a marriage license and certificate. This article is a complete guide to everything you need to know about marriage in Cambodia.

 

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