Everything you need to know about marriage in Estonia

17 May 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Estonia 01

Every year, over 5000 marriages are consummated in Estonia, a country in northern Europe located on the Baltic Sea. There are two major types of marriages in the country, namely civil and religious marriages, and the way these two types of marriages are conducted is quite different. Civil marriages usually involve a lot of paperwork, a waiting process, the payment of fees, etc., whereas religious marriages do not usually involve any of that. Couples can perform religious marriages if they are religious people who currently meet all of the marriage requirements of the religious body where the ceremony will take place. 

In Estonia, a marriage is only legal when it is performed civilly with the submission of all the necessary documents. The legal marriage age in the country is 18 years, and unlike most other countries in Europe that allow exceptions up to a minimum age of 16 years, Estonia reduces the age bracket by one. Spouses between the ages of 15 and 18 may be allowed to marry in the country if parental or guardian consent is provided. 

The marriage rules outlined in Estonia's constitution must be followed, and while spouses are free to practice their religion and adhere to the marriage practices outlined in the constitution, they must ensure that none of the practices or principles violate the marriage laws provided by the government. The rest of the article will show you more about the types of marriages in Estonia as well as the conditions under which a marriage may be deemed invalid in the country.

Civil marriage 

A civil marriage is the only type of marriage that is legally binding in Estonia. The civil marriage is contracted by the local government through the county center official, a notary, or a minister of religion. Before spouses are allowed to get married, they must submit a joint written application in person at the viral statistics office where they plan to conduct the marriage. The spouses must be of legal age before proceeding with marriage applications, and marriages through the use of a proxy are not a common act in the country.

 Spouses are required to be physically present during the marriage application and registration. Before both spouses contract a marriage in Estonia, they must ensure they are fully eligible and are facing no prohibitions preventing them from getting married in the country. This applies to both foreigners and Estonians. Spouses with a restricted active legal capacity due to one reason or another may be allowed to conduct a marriage; however, the legal consequences that may result from the marriage must be known to them. The documents that are required from both spouses are stated below.

Documents Required

  • Both partners must submit valid identity documents. Estonians may submit a national ID card, and foreign spouses may submit a valid passport.
  • Both spouses must submit copies of their birth certificates.
  • A joint written application to marry must be submitted by the two partners. This paperwork must include a declaration of their intention to marry as well as other formal application details.
  • Divorce or death certificate. This applies to spouses who were married before in Estonia or other foreign countries. The certificate must show that the previous marriage has been legally terminated.
  • A document proving residency. This document may be requested by foreign spouses marrying in Estonia.
  • A certificate of legal capacity to marry This document applies to foreign spouses who do not have a permanent residence in Estonia or who have lived in the country for a total period of less than six months.

 Conditions for the Validity of Marriages

There are certain conditions under which a marriage in Estonia may be rendered invalid or void by the laws of the state. These are stated below.

  • Both spouses must be at least 18 years old. Marriage in Estonia can only be performed between adults, and parental consent must be provided if a person younger than the age of 18 wishes to contract an Estonian marriage ceremony.
  • A marriage is a union between an adult man and a woman. Only members of the opposite sex are permitted to marry each other, and if a same-sex marriage is entered into, the law directly renders it invalid.
  • A marriage is only valid when it is contracted by two people who were single at the time of the ceremony.
  • Marriage must be contracted between two people who are not related to each other by blood or affinity. This implies that spouses who are relatives or siblings are not promoted to conduct a legal marriage. This also applies to adopted siblings and parents. If a marriage is entered between two legal relatives or siblings in the ascending or descending line, it is automatically nullified.

Religious marriage 


The predominant religion in Estonia is Christianity, followed by Islam and Judaism. However, the number of Estonians who are religious and perform religious rites and principles is quite low. Less than 15% of the total population is religious, with the rest of the population being totally irreligious or having a religious affiliation where the principles of that religion are not abided by. In Estonia, a religious marriage holds no legal grounds. Couples who want to perform marriages in accordance with their religious or regional association must conduct a civil marriage first. The main Christian denomination is the Lutheran Church, followed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Weddings held in the Lutheran church have several components that are followed and practiced during the course of the ceremony. The marriage ceremony usually begins with a processional, where the pastor greets all the people in attendance and thanks them for coming to honor the couple. The church ceremony usually includes the reading of various scriptures and a wedding sermon. Most times, the marriage sermon is based on marriage, and the pastor discusses a subject that is beneficial to the couple. During the service, the bride and groom exchange vows and rings, and the priest says a prayer for them and pronounces them husband and wife.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Estonia 02

Estonian marriage traditions

Engagement 

This is an important part of Estonian marriages. The groom declares his love for his future wife and expresses his desire to marry her during the engagement ceremony. Most times, the groom purchases an engagement ring that is worn by the bride upon the bride's acceptance of the groom's marriage proposal.

Bridenapping 

This is one of the ceremonial rites that are performed in Estonian marriages. Several other European countries also perform this marriage tradition. Here, the bride is kidnapped by members of her bridal party at the end of the wedding ceremony, and the husband is tasked with the duty of finding her and paying the required ransom. Most times, he is provided with different games and puzzles that can help him locate his wife.

Hen and stag parties

The custom in Estonia is that after the engagement ceremony is concluded, close friends of the bride and groom must host a hen and stag party for them. These parties are usually not just celebrated the traditional way with food, drinks, and music. Hen and stag parties usually involve road trips and various games that make the whole activity a lot of fun and are enjoyed by all participants.

Same-sex marriages 

Partners of the same sex are not allowed to legally perform a marriage in Estonia. However, it is legal to be a homosexual in the country, and same-sex couples have the right to cohabitate with each other as they deem fit. Same-sex couples are able to enjoy some gender protections in the country. In this country, homosexuals have the legal right to adopt a stepchild.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is illegal in Estonia. This type of marriage is widely frowned upon by Estonian society. Even though the country is generally secular and most of the people living in Estonia have no religious affiliation, polygamy is not a popular subject. A man is only allowed to marry a woman, and vice versa.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The Estonian laws of marriage define marriage as a union between an adult man and woman, which means that those who wish to enter into marriage must have attained the minimum required age for contracting marriage. 18 years is the legal age for marriage in the country, but minors between the ages of 15 and 17 can contract marriage provided they have parental consent. Civil marriage is the only recognized form of marriage in Estonia; couples have to hold a civil ceremony before any other form of marriage, such as a religious ceremony. If a couple decides to hold a religious ceremony, they must do so according to the dictates of their religion, and a civil ceremony must be done either before or after. People who do not have any religious inclination are only allowed to contract civil marriages. 

Marriages must be registered at the office of vital statistics, and a valid marriage certificate must be issued. The ceremony must be conducted by a notary or an authorized minister. If one or both couples are foreigners, they must be eligible for marriage according to the laws of marriage in their home country before they can contract marriage in Estonia. Those who are not permitted to enter into marriage in their home country cannot contract marriage in Estonia. Couples must have no blood ties to each other. Siblings, cousins, stepsiblings, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, and grandparents are not allowed to marry one another as long as they share a common blood tie. Couples must prove that they understand the concept of marriage and can give consent to marriage in a sound and stable state of mind. A marriage can be declared void if one of the spouses is not in a stable mental condition. 

Same-sex relationships are recognized under the law in Estonia and are allowed to enter into civil partnerships. Cohabiting couples are legally recognized as husband and wife under the cohabitation act. Couples must not be in any legally binding relationship at the time of contracting marriage, as bigamy and polygamy are not tolerated in the country. If, at the time of marriage, one or both of the spouses are still in a legal marriage, they would not be allowed to contract a new marriage. If one or both of them have been previously married, a certificate of divorce or death must be presented to the office of vital statistics to attest to the single status of both spouses. All documentation required by the law must be submitted and verified by the appropriate authorities before marriage can be declared legal. All foreign documents must be translated into English, Russian, or Estonian by an authorized translator.

Rights

On the basis of entering into a marriage agreement, couples have access to certain rights that are not available to unmarried men and women. The rights of marriage are not only limited to those who are formally married; same-sex couples and couples in common-law marriages enjoy certain rights that are available to married couples. Spouses have the right to decide whether or not to have children, how many children they want, and whether or not to adopt. Many countries across the world do not allow couples who are not legally married to exercise this right to adopt. 

Both the husband and wife have the right to own property, either individually or jointly. The marital regime under which the marriage was contracted would determine how property is used, owned, or discarded. The husband and wife have the right to make influential decisions concerning the welfare of the family. Spouses have the right to work and pursue various career ambitions without any discrimination based on sex, age, or race. They both have the right to list one another as emergency contacts in medical or life-threatening situations. 

The husband and wife have the right to terminate marriage by filing for divorce based on specific reasons such as desertion, infidelity, or a mutual decision. They both have the right to gain custody of the children, but custody would be awarded to the spouse who has the best interests of the children in the event of divorce. They have the same right to exercise parental authority and act as the children's legal guardians. The husband and wife have the right to actively participate in political and other socioeconomic activities.

Costs

The cost of getting married in Estonia can be quite expensive considering the economic structure of the country. Over the past few years, many couples have refused to get married due to a number of factors, such as the cost of getting married. Couples should expect to pay a sum of 30 euros to register marriage at the office of vital statistics. An average Estonian wedding costs around 1000 kroons, which is approximately 64 euros per guest. 

Therefore, if around 40 guests are invited to a wedding, a total of 2560 euros would be spent to cover the food and drinks for the guests. The wedding venue depends on the number of guests the couple has invited and the location; intimate ceremonies are often celebrated in small halls or even in the backyards of the couple's home. The accommodation of guests is a very important part of the wedding budget; couples may decide to bear this cost or not. Many couples have to take out loans or save for many years before they are able to afford the cost of marriage. 

The financial ability of the couple and how much has been budgeted for the wedding are major determinants of how much they will spend on the celebration. All expenses, such as decorations, makeup, and the couple's attire, are determined by the size of the ceremony. Many wealthy families often host large and extravagant weddings, while middle-class citizens host weddings according to their financial means.

Duties

The husband and wife in an Estonian society are required to perform certain roles and responsibilities to ensure the smooth management of the home. The family is an important part of the community; therefore, couples are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of the family. The husband and wife have a duty to provide for all the needs of the family, especially the children. The educational upbringing and moral development of the children are the duties of the husband and wife. 

The roles of the couple are not defined by gender norms; they both can take on roles that are not specific to their gender. Although women are often responsible for the management and care of the household, the husband can also assist when it comes to doing certain chores or taking care of the kids. They both have a duty to be committed to one another, provide moral and emotional support for one another, and be loyal. In the event of separation, the husband and wife have a duty to jointly provide for the needs of the children, irrespective of who gets custody of them.

Final thoughts 

Estonia is a beautiful country with straightforward marriage laws. The process of getting married in the country involves the submission of various documents, and there is usually a waiting period after the submission. During the waiting period, the concerned authorities verify all the documents that have been submitted to ensure they are legitimate.

Foreign spouses can request documents from their home country or the embassy or consulate of their country in Estonia. All the documents must be legally translated into Estonian, notarized, and include an apostille. In Estonia, a marriage cannot be contracted immediately after the application is submitted. The earliest time is one month, and the latest time to perform the marriage ceremony is six months. We hope this article has helped you understand everything you need to know about marriage in Estonia.

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