Everything you need to know about marriage in Kenya

10 Apr 2023·21 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Kenya 01

Kenya is an East African country popular for its mountain highlands, game reserves, and parks. Every year, thousands of marriages are celebrated in the country by Kenyan nationals and foreigners from different parts of the world. Couples have the freedom to perform various types of marriages in Kenya; however, only five marriages are officially recognized in the country. To be legally recognized as a married couple in Kenya, spouses must perform either a civil, Hindu, Christian, Islamic, or customary marriage. Although these different types of marriages are performed in unique ways according to the customs and traditions of the partners, they are all recognized and protected by the laws of the country. 

Arranged marriages are a part of Kenyan culture, particularly in certain communities where they are considered a traditional practice. In such cases, the parents or relatives of the prospective spouses may be involved in the process of selecting a partner based on various factors such as family background, education, religion, and financial status. However, as Kenya becomes more modernized, arranged marriages are becoming less common. Many young people today prefer to choose their own partners based on their own criteria and personal preferences rather than relying on their families to make these decisions for them. 

Patriarchal family structures are common in Kenya, especially in rural areas and among certain ethnic groups. In such families, the male is often seen as the head of the household, with authority over decision-making and family finances. This is based on the traditional belief that men are the breadwinners and protectors of the family, while women are responsible for taking care of the home and children. As you read on, you will find out more about the different types of marriages in Kenya as well as the popular customs and traditions in the country.

Civil marriages

Civil marriages are performed in Kenya by authorized government officials known as Marriage Officers. These officers are appointed by the Registrar General of the Attorney General's office and are authorized to conduct civil marriage ceremonies and issue marriage certificates. In order to get married in a civil ceremony, the couple must first obtain a marriage license from the Registrar of Marriages at the Attorney General's office. This requires providing various documents, such as identification documents, proof of age, and a certificate of no impediment to marriage. 

During the civil ceremony, the marriage officer will ask the couple to declare their intention to marry and then conduct the marriage ceremony in the presence of two witnesses. Once the ceremony is complete, the marriage officer will issue a marriage certificate to the couple. Civil marriages in Kenya are recognized under the Marriage Act, which provides for monogamous marriages between individuals who are of opposite sexes and are not within the prohibited degrees of relationship. 

To perform a civil marriage in Kenya, both spouses are required to have reached the age of 18 and be in good legal standing with the government. Foreigners who intend to perform civil marriages in Kenya are required to provide original copies of the required documents that have been translated into Swahili or English. The documents that must be submitted by both spouses are listed below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid copy of your national ID card or international passport
  • Both partners must submit copies of their government-issued birth certificates.
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of these documents must be submitted by someone who was previously married but is now separated or widowed.

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are common in Kenya and are conducted in accordance with the traditions and practices of various religions, ethnicities, and communities in the country. The most common religious marriages in Kenya are Christian, Muslim, and Hindu marriages. In Christian marriages, the ceremony is typically held in a church or chapel and is presided over by a religious official such as a pastor, priest, or reverend. The couple exchanges vows and rings, and the marriage is blessed in front of family and friends. In Muslim marriages, the ceremony is conducted in accordance with Islamic tradition and is presided over by an Islamic scholar or an imam. 

The couple signs a marriage contract known as a nikah, which is witnessed by family members and friends. The marriage is also blessed by the Imam, and the couple is considered married under Islamic law. Hindu marriages in Kenya are typically held in a Hindu temple or at the home of the bride's family and are presided over by a Hindu priest known as a pandit. Religious and customary marriages in Kenya are legally binding once they are registered with the Registrar of Marriages at the Attorney General's office. After the religious ceremony, the couple must obtain a marriage certificate from the religious authority and then register the marriage with the government within three months of the ceremony.

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Marriage traditions in Kenya

Bride Price 

The payment of bride price, or lobola, in Kenya is a complex process that involves negotiation between the families of the bride and groom. The groom is required to pay a certain amount of money or present gifts during the pre-wedding phase. It may take several meetings to reach an agreement on the amount to be paid and the terms of payment. The bride price is typically paid in installments over a period of time agreed upon by both families.

Exchange of gifts

In Kenyan weddings, the exchange of gifts is an important ceremonial rite where the bride and groom exchange various items as a symbol of their love and commitment to each other. The exchange of gifts is seen as a way to show appreciation to the families of the bride and groom for their support during the wedding preparations. Livestock, money, and electronics are popular gift items at Kenyan weddings.

Traditional Attires

Kenya is culturally diverse, and different ethnic groups have special attire that is worn for wedding ceremonies. In the Kikuyu community, the bride may wear a white or red dress made of cotton or silk, adorned with beads and traditional jewelry. She may also wear a headdress made of woven sisal or animal skin and carry a special gourd or basket called a "ruracio" that contains gifts from her family. The groom typically wears a traditional outfit consisting of shirt and trousers made from a woven fabric called "kikoi" or "leso." The shirt may be long-sleeved or short-sleeved, and it is usually white or a solid color.

Same-sex Marriages 

There is no recognition of same-sex unions in Kenya. Marriage is only allowed between spouses of the opposite sex, and any form of union, partnership, or marriage between two partners of the same sex is nullified and illegal under the laws of the country. The status of homosexuality in Kenya is illegal, and the penalty for this act is up to 14 years imprisonment.

Polygamous Marriages 

Polygamous marriages are legal in Kenya. According to the Kenyan Marriage Act, a man is allowed to marry more than one woman if he meets certain criteria. These criteria include: the first wife must give her consent to the second marriage; the man must have the financial means to support multiple wives and their children; he must provide a written agreement that outlines how he will support each wife and her children; he must not marry a woman who is already married; and lastly, they must have both reached the legal marriage age in the country.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Marriage in Kenya is governed by the Marriage Act of 2014. All forms of marriage are recognized as being legally binding under the Kenya Marriage Act. According to the law, intending couples, regardless of religion or culture, are required to be over the age of 18 years before marriage can be conducted. Marriage between persons who are related is prohibited in Kenya. Both the husband and wife must voluntarily consent to marriage for it to be legally binding. In Kenya, civil marriages must be conducted by an authorized registrar of marriages. Couples must be able to provide valid identification documents such as passports, birth certificates, etc. before marriage can take place. 

The couple must be single at the time of marriage. Any civil marriage contracted under the Kenyan Marriage Act of 2014 must be between a single man and woman. In the event that one of the couples has been married in the past, the concerned party is required to submit a copy of the divorce certificate. According to Section 7 of the Marriage Act of 2014, civil marriages are presumed to be monogamous or potentially monogamous. Spouses are required by law to submit a notice of intended marriage to the marriage registry at least 21 days before the chosen date for the ceremony. The majority of the laws that apply to civil marriage also apply to Christian marriages. The Christian marriage ceremony must be conducted by a recognized minister of religion appointed by the Attorney General. 

Furthermore, the couple is required to provide a certificate of marriage counseling from a recognized church. This implies that couples who wish to contract a Christian marriage must have undergone marriage counseling, which is a requirement for a valid Christian marriage in Kenya. The couple must be in a sound state of mind to be able to contract marriage. If one or both couples are not mentally, physically, or emotionally stable, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. The husband and wife must be able to provide two witnesses who are over 18 years of age. Just like the other forms of marriage in Kenya, the Hindu marriage ceremony must be conducted by a recognized Hindu priest or a marriage officer appointed by the Attorney General. Under the Hindu marriage laws, both parties must provide a certificate of no objection from the Hindu Council of Kenya or a recognized Hindu religious body. 

This certificate shows that there is no objection to the proposed Hindu marriage. Both parties must be at least 18 years old and have valid identification documents. They must be able to provide at least two witnesses who are of sound mind and are over the age of 18. Failure to comply with the provisions of the Marriage Act of 2014 may result in the Hindu marriage being declared void. Islamic marriages in Kenya are conducted according to Islamic laws; however, these laws must comply with the Kenyan Marriage Act of 2014, otherwise the marriage would be declared null and void. The husband and wife must not be related in any way. The groom and bride are required to give their full and free consent to marriage before it may be allowed to take place. The Islamic marriage ceremony must be conducted by a recognized Islamic cleric who is authorized to conduct marriages.

Rights

The Marriage Act of 2014 also makes provision for the rights of couples in marriage. The Marriage Act recognized both the husband and wife as equals; therefore, they both have equal rights in marriage. Married couples in Kenya have the right to make decisions together. In marriage, both partners are given the right to make decisions together concerning important family and household matters such as finances, children, and household responsibilities. They both have the right to property. Both partners can decide to own property jointly or separately. In the event of a divorce or separation, the property acquired during the marriage is divided equally between the partners. 

In the event that a prenuptial agreement was signed at the time of marriage, the couples get to keep their various properties even in the event of divorce. According to the Kenyan Marriage Act, each partner has the right to be supported financially by the other during the marriage and after divorce or separation. This includes the obligation to provide for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Both spouses have the right to equal treatment, respect, and dignity within the marriage. They are both granted the right to be treated with fairness and justice at all times, even at the workplace. The husband and wife have the same right to file for divorce. 

Either spouse may petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, desertion, or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Couples in marriages that are presumed to be potentially polygamous have the right to marry more than one spouse at the same time. However, this right is only available to the groom. The bride is only allowed to enter into a new marriage contract after the former has been annulled. The type of marriage contracted also determines the types of rights couples have access to in marriage. The rights of spouses in a customary marriage may be different from those in a civil or religious marriage.

Costs

The cost of marriage in Kenya can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the type of marriage ceremony, the location, and the customs or traditions of the families involved. In Kenya, a marriage license is required for a civil or religious marriage ceremony. The cost of a marriage license varies depending on the location, but it typically ranges from KES 200 to KES 1,000. Determining the cost of a wedding ceremony in Kenya largely depends on a number of factors, such as the location of the wedding, the size of the guest list, and the type of ceremony. A small, traditional wedding in a rural area may cost as little as KES 50,000, while a larger, modern wedding in a city can cost several million Kenyan shillings. 

The cost of the bridal and groom attire is often determined by the quality, design, and style of the attire. Bridal gowns can cost anywhere from KES 10,000 to KES 500,000, while groom attire can range from KES 5,000 to KES 50,000. Rings are a very important part of the wedding ceremony in Kenya, and the average cost of wedding rings in Kenya can range from a few thousand shillings to several hundred thousand, depending on the type of metal, design, and quality. The cost of the wedding reception is determined by the type of wedding contracted, the location chosen for the wedding, the size of the guest list, and the type of food and drinks served. A small reception may cost around KES 50,000, while a larger reception with hundreds of guests can cost several million Kenyan shillings.

Duties

In Kenya, couples have various duties and responsibilities towards each other and towards their families. Spouses are expected to love and care for each other and to provide emotional support and companionship to one another. Married couples are expected to be faithful to each other and remain committed to their marriage vows. They must not engage in extramarital affairs. Communication is key in every relationship; therefore, the husband and wife are expected to communicate openly and honestly with each other and to work together to resolve any conflicts or issues that may arise in the marriage. 

Partners are expected to support each other in all aspects of their lives, including their careers, hobbies, and personal goals. Couples who have children are expected to work together to provide for and raise their children, including providing love, support, and guidance. The husband and wife are expected to be financially responsible and to contribute to the family's financial well-being. Spouses are expected to respect each other's rights, beliefs, and opinions and to treat each other with kindness and consideration.

Final Thoughts   

Kenya is a multicultural country with various ethnic groups, and as such, there are different marriage traditions and customs practiced across the country. Various types of unions are legally recognized in the country, from civil to religious and customary marriages.

Foreign spouses may be required to submit some additional documents during the process of their civil marriage registration. These documents will typically be obtained from their home country or the embassy of their country in Kenya. Polygamous marriages are also allowed in the country as long as both partners meet the criteria stated above in the article. We hope this article has helped you understand everything you need to know about marriage in Kenya.

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