Everything you need to know about marriage in Kiribati

6 Sep 2023·20 min to read
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Thousands of marriages are performed every year in Kiribati by citizens of the country and other foreigners. Kiribati, officially the Republic of Kiribati, is an island country in Oceania in the central Pacific Ocean. In Kiribati, there are three types of marriage recognized by law: traditional, religious, and civil marriages. Traditional marriages are conducted according to the customs and traditions of the I-Kiribati people and are typically arranged by the families of the bride and groom. The traditional I-Kiribati marriage ceremony is conducted by a traditional leader and includes offerings to the spirits of the ancestors, as well as traditional dances and songs. 

Religious marriages are conducted by a religious leader of the couple's choosing, such as a Christian minister or a traditional leader. These marriages are considered valid by the religious organization that performs the ceremony, but they may not be legally binding.
Civil marriages, on the other hand, are conducted by a government official such as a registrar and are governed by Kiribati law. These marriages are considered legally binding and offer legal protection and rights to the couple. The marriage act of 2002 in Kiribati set the minimum marriage age at 21 years for both male and female spouses. 

Under special circumstances, spouses younger than 21 or older than 18 years may be allowed to marry, provided they have obtained parental or guardian consent. There has been a prevalent rate of child marriages in Kiribati, and the government has taken measures to reduce and stop child, early, and forced marriages. Child marriages before the age of 18 account for about 20 percent of marriages in the country. About 3 percent of all marriages are entered by spouses under the age of 15. As you read on, you will find out more about the marriage traditions in Kiribati as well as the laws and rights governing the act of marriage in the country.

Civil marriages 

In Kiribati, civil marriages are performed in the civil registry office by authorized marriage officers, or registrars. All civil marriages performed in Kiribati are legally binding in the country and other parts of the world. To begin the process of getting married civilly, both partners must visit the civil registry office in their municipality or district to obtain a marriage application form. This will serve as notice of both spouses' intention to marry. Once the marriage registrar accepts such a notice, he or she will register it in the marriage notice book and then publish the notice on the board outside his or her office. The general publication will remain published until the couple obtains a marriage certificate or until a period of three months has elapsed. 

Generally, there is a waiting period of 21 days. During this time, the registrar checks to see if anyone or anything will spring up to prevent the marriage from happening. This may include previous marriages or legal prohibitions. If there are no issues, the marriage procedure will proceed normally. After the marriage license is issued to the spouses, they must get married within a 3-month period. The marriage license holds a validity period of only 3 months, and once it expires, the couple will need to restart the marriage application process. There are residency requirements for marriage in Kiribati. At least one of the spouses must be a resident of the country, and they must have lived in the district where they intend to get married for a minimum continuous period of 28 days. 

Both partners must be at least 21 years old, even if they are from a foreign country. Spouses below this age will be required to provide written parental consent to get married. Both partners must not be related to each other. If it is discovered that both partners are related by direct link or affinity, it will result in the nullification of such a marriage. The solemnization of the marriage takes place between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the presence of two legal witnesses. After the ceremony is concluded, the registrar will register the marriage in the official marriage book at the registry and also present a copy of the marriage certificate to the couple. Both partners must provide the documents below during their marriage registration.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or a valid passport
  • Both partners are required to provide certified copies of their birth certificates
  • Two witnesses, aged 21 or older, must be provided by both partners.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of these pieces of paperwork must be provided by spouses to show they are no longer married and have dissolved their previous marriage.
  • A certificate of no impediment to marriage must be provided by both partners. This must be stamped by the general registry office.

Religious marriages 

In Kiribati, about 96 percent of the total population is Christian, and most marriages are performed in the church. Religious marriages in the country are recognized only if they are performed after the couple has performed a civil ceremony and obtained the required marriage certificate. Many couples choose to have both a civil marriage ceremony and a religious marriage ceremony, and the religious ceremony is often considered the more important of the two. Some families will not consider couples married even if their marriage has been officially recorded in the civil registry. Only after the wedding is performed in the presence of God in the church will such spouses be regarded as being officially married. 

Church weddings in Kiribati are officiated by registered priests or pastors, and they are typically held in a church or chapel, but they can also take place in other venues such as a beach or park, depending on the couple's preference. During the ceremony, traditional Christian wedding vows are exchanged, and hymns, prayers, and Bible readings are also incorporated. The ceremony is usually attended by close family and friends and is followed by a reception that may include traditional dances, singing, and a feast. Some couples in Kiribati also incorporate traditional customs into their religious wedding ceremonies, such as the presentation of a woven mat or the exchange of traditional clothing.

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Marriage traditions in Kiribati

Bride Price

In traditional Kiribati society, marriage was arranged by the families of the bride and groom. The process of arranging a marriage involved the negotiation of a bride price, which was paid by the groom's family to the bride's family. This was traditionally in the form of goods such as mats, canoes, and tools. The payment of bride pride is still prevalent in the country.


The engagement is a pre-wedding phase that includes a lot of marriage preparations. Once the bride price is agreed upon and paid, the couple would be considered officially engaged. The engagement period would last for several months, during which time the couple would live with the groom's family and prepare for the wedding.

Wedding Ceremony 

The wedding ceremony itself was typically held in the bride's family's home and involved a series of traditional customs and rituals. The couple would exchange vows and garlands of flowers, and the bride's father would give a formal speech. After the ceremony, most couples usually go on their honeymoon on another island, which may last up to two weeks or more.

Same-sex marriages 

In Kiribati, it is illegal for both males and females to be homosexuals or involved in same-sex sexual activity. The practice of homosexuality in the country may result in a penalty of up to 14 years' imprisonment. This has not been enforced; however, the legislation has been proposed. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is banned in employment practices in the country. However, both genders in the LGBT community are still subjected to violence and stigma in the country.

Polygamous marriages 

In Kiribati, polygamous marriages are not allowed under the country's civil code. Marriages recorded in the registry must be between a single man and a single woman. The majority of marriages in Kiribati are monogamous. However, traditional customs and beliefs may still allow for some limited forms of polygamy in certain communities. In rural communities, polygamous marriages are still performed actively in some families.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


Just like every country in the world, marriage in Kiribati is governed by a set of laws that regulate how marriage is conducted and who is and is not allowed to contract marriage in the island country of Kiribati. Kiribati marriage laws are found in the Marriage Act of 1971 and the Marriage (Amendment) Act of 2016. According to these laws, individuals must be at least 21 years old to be legally married. However, exceptions are made for minors aged 17–20 to contract marriage, but parental consent must be obtained before marriage can take place. In the absence of parental consent, a legal guardian's consent is applicable. 

The marriage laws in Kiribati state that couples must submit an application for notice of intended marriage to the civil registry, after which they are required to obtain a marriage license from the government. The marriage ceremony must be performed by a government-approved marriage officer, as any marriage conducted by anyone other than an authorized marriage officiant would be declared void. Polygamous marriages are not recognized under Kiribati law. The groom and bride are not allowed to marry more than one spouse at the same time. According to the Marriage Act of 1971 and the Marriage (Amendment) Act of 2016, couples are not allowed to marry within their immediate or extended families. 

Even underage marriages between close relatives are highly prohibited in Kiribati. Marriages must also be performed without the use of force or violence, according to the law. Couples must not be put under duress in order to forcefully obtain their consent to marriage. Such marriages would be considered void. Customary marriages, also known as traditional or informal marriages, are not legally recognized in Kiribati. Couples who wish to have customary marriages must have contracted a civil marriage. In Kiribati, a marriage certificate issued by the government is needed to prove that a couple is legally married. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in Kiribati, whether between two foreigners or in a mixed marriage between one foreigner and a citizen. 

The foreigner must be eligible for marriage in his or her home country; otherwise, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. There must not be any legal impediment to marriage. The law also states that the couple must be single at the time of marriage. They must be divorced, unmarried, or widowed to be able to enter into a new marriage agreement. If any of the couple is widowed, he or she is required to provide the marriage and death certificates of the former spouse. In the case of divorce, the concerned spouse is required to submit the original certificate of divorce decree to the appropriate authorities.


The rights and benefits of couples in Kiribati may have some underlying cultural, social, and personal factors that may affect the way rights are accessed by couples in Kiribati. However, this does not pose any limitations, and couples still have access to exercise their rights in marriage. In marriage, the husband and wife have the same property rights. Married couples have the right to acquire, hold, and dispose of property together and also have rights to property acquired during the marriage or before marriage. This is determined by the marital regime of property chosen at the time of marriage. Spouses have equal inheritance rights. Legally married couples have the right to inherit properties, land, and other assets from each other in the event of the death of one of the spouses. Married men and women enjoy the same support rights in marriage. 

They both have the right to receive financial, physical, and emotional support from each other during the marriage and even in the event of a divorce. Just like the fundamental rights of humans, married couples also have access to legal rights. Married couples have the right to make decisions on behalf of each other in legal matters, such as signing contracts or making medical decisions. They also possess the right to initiate divorce once it is perceived that the marriage is no longer working. Divorce can be contracted based on the mutual consent of the couple or based on the fault of one of them. Marriage guarantees couples' social security benefits. Married couples may be eligible for social security benefits such as pensions, health care, and other welfare benefits provided by the government.


There are a number of fees that need to be paid to the government of Kiribati before marriage can take place in the country. Couples should expect to pay for the marriage license, marriage certificate, marriage ceremony, and the marriage officiant as well. For foreign couples, a certificate of no legal impediment fee and translation and certification fees must be paid to the marriage registry in Kiribati. To register for marriage, a fee must be paid as well. 

All the fees are estimated to be anywhere from $150 to $200. Couples should budget between $2,000 and $10,000 for an average wedding reception in Kiribati. Depending on the couple's preferences and the time of year, the marriage celebration will take place. During the normal season, it often costs less to host a wedding ceremony, but during the wedding season, couples often have to spend more than the actual wedding budget.


In an average family in Kiribati, the husband and wife are both responsible for the smooth running of the family. They are both recognized as the heads of the household; therefore, they are responsible for making decisions concerning the welfare of the family. Despite the fact that the couple are both recognized as the heads of the home, the husband is required to take on the leadership role and ensure that the affairs of the family are run smoothly. The primary duties of the husband are to provide for the family and ensure that the financial and economic needs of the family are met. 

The wife is saddled with the responsibility of managing the household and providing care for the children and her husband at all times. She is obligated to provide support for her husband and ensure that the family's resources are properly managed. They are both responsible for the growth and development of the children. The couple is expected to provide a proper educational and moral upbringing for the children. The husband and wife have obligations and responsibilities to one another that must be met.


Kiribati is a culturally diverse country, and various ethnic groups and communities have unique marriage traditions. Arranged marriages used to be very popular in the country. The norm was for the parents of prospective spouses to find suitable partners for them; however, most marriages in the country now happen for love.

To perform both civil and religious marriages in Kiribati, there are certain steps both partners must follow. Only civil marriages performed in the country hold international recognition and validity. The marriage certificate has several benefits and rights that it offers both partners. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Kiribati.