Everything you need to know about marriage in Laos

18 Jun 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Laos 01

Laos is a southeast Asian country famous for its breathtaking architecture, terrain, and monasteries. The country is multicultural and also consists of several religions. There are about 50 ethnic groups and 160 ethnic subgroups in the country; therefore, various celebrations and ceremonies, such as marriages, are performed in diverse ways. Civil marriages are the only types of marriages that are recognized and protected under the laws of the country. Traditional and religious marriages are also widely performed, but they are not legally binding. A marriage between two spouses is only official when it is recorded in a civil registry. 

The legal marriage age for Laotians and foreigners in the country is 18 years for both men and women; however, there are certain exceptions allowed where spouses between the ages of 15 and 18 may be permitted to marry, but this is only allowed under special circumstances with the provision of parental consent and a judge’s authorization. In ancient times, arranged marriages used to be popular in the country, where all marriage arrangements were carried out by the respective families of the bride and groom; this has largely changed in recent times. Spouses in Laos now marry for love, including even those in rural areas. 

Marriages are not allowed between people who are related to each other; members of the same clan may, however, legally get married. This is often done as a way of preserving the culture and making the clan bond stronger. Traditionally, the bride and groom live in the family house of either of their families during the first year of marriage. They often move into their own dwelling place after the birth of their first child. Even though this is not performed everywhere in Laos, there are still several rival communities where such an act remains popular. Read on to find out more about marriage traditions in Laos.

Civil marriages

For a marriage to be legally binding in Laos, it must be performed in a civil registry by an authorized registrar or notary. Civil marriages are compulsory for couples who want to be officially married in the country. Civil marriages often include various documents that must be submitted during the registration as well as criteria that must be met by the spouses getting married. Generally, the process of contracting a civil marriage in Laos begins with the marriage application. Couples who have the intention of getting married in the country must first make a written application, which must be filed at the family registration office. 

The rule of thumb is for the registration office to be located in the municipality or district where either or both couples live. In some cases, it may be the one where their parents reside. While filing the application form, spouses must ensure that it states if either of the partners has been previously married with children or not. This gives rise to the need for a certificate of no impediment to marry. This paperwork serves as evidence that a spouse, especially one from a foreign country, is allowed to contract a marriage in Laos without facing any form of hindrance due to a previous marriage or prohibitions. The family registrar officer will verify all the submitted documents and consider the request of the spouses to get married in the country. 

The period of this may last up to a month, but it must not exceed the one-month limit from the actual day the request was received. Upon meeting all the necessary conditions and submitting the required documents, the family registrar will then call upon the bride and groom, as well as their witnesses, so as to register the marriage officially. Upon the completion of the marriage registration process, a marriage certificate is issued to the couple to serve as proof that they are legally married. Most times. 

Furthermore, the marriage officer will explain the rights and obligations of each spouse now that they are married and how to ensure the smooth running of all marital activities. Laotians who are in a foreign country for reasons such as work, tourism, etc. may also perform a civil marriage in the Laos embassy or consulate in that country. The Laotian decree governing the act of marriage in the country states the documents that must be submitted by spouses before they are allowed to marry. These documents are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • Proof of the identities of both partners This includes a national identity card, a valid passport, etc.
  • A marriage request must be obtained from the Laotian's residence's local administrative authority. This paperwork must be approved by the chef of the village.
  • Proof of address or an affidavit of residence is required for both applicants. This document will help by showing how long the spouses have been residing in Laos to determine their qualification status.
  • Both spouses are required to provide recent medical examination results. These results must include all the mandatory tests to be performed and show that both spouses are allowed to freely get married without any complications.
  • Foreign spouses are required to submit an affidavit of marital status, also referred to as a certificate of no impediment to marry.
  • Depending on the registry where the marriage is performed, a foreign spouse may be required to provide proof of employment. All documents obtained abroad must be translated into Laotian and apostille with the foreigner's home country's official authorization stamp.

Religious and traditional marriages

Laotians hold their traditions to high standards, and different ethnicities have peculiarities pertaining to how marriage is conducted in the country. Both religious and traditional marriages are widely performed in the country, but they are not legally binding. Such marriages require that a civil marriage be conducted first before they are allowed to take place. The largest religious group in Laos is Buddhism, with about 66 percent of the total population. This is followed by the Tai folk religion. More religious beliefs in Laos include Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and several others. 

Buddhists generally do not celebrate marriages religiously or traditionally the way other couples from most countries do. Buddhists do not consider marriage to be a religious ceremony or obligation. It is often regarded as a way to reproduce and experience romantic love. Marriages are optional to Buddhists, and this in turn affects the total number of religious marriages performed in the country. Buddhists generally only perform civil marriages, while some may just organize a small gathering attended by close family and friends.

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Marriage traditions in Laos

Laotian Attires 

Weddings in Laos are known to be colorful, not just through the use of beautiful decorations but also through the outfits worn by the couple and other guests. Traditionally, the bride wears a silk blouse and skirt with many ornaments and jewelry to make her stand out. The groom also wears a silk white shirt and silk tie that match those of the bride.

Sou Khor 

This is a pre-wedding procession that must be performed by the families of the bride and groom. During the ceremony, both parties are required to agree on the bride price that must be paid by the groom before the wedding can take place. The bride price generally depends on the financial capabilities of the parties involved.

Lam Vong 

Wedding receptions in Laos involve a lot of activities performed by the newlyweds, their families, and friends. The first dance performed by the newly married couple is referred to as the Lam Vong. Once the couple starts doing the dance, other members of the wedding party and various guests then join in.

Same-sex and polygamous marriages in Laos

Same-sex marriages are not allowed in Laos. Marriage may only occur between a man and a woman. The status of homosexuality is legal, and same-sex spouses are allowed to engage in sexual activities but are not allowed to head households. Marriage rights such as adoption or inheritance are generally not available to them.

Polygamy is allowed in some traditions in Laos, but it is generally not commonly practiced. Men in Hmong and Khmu cultures are permitted to marry more than one wife. One of the reasons why polygamous marriages are not so popular is due to the financial expenses involved in supporting multiple partners.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The law of marriage in Laos, known as the "family law of 1990," states that all men and women are allowed to enter into marriage voluntarily, without the use of force, and with whomever they wish to get married to. The law only recognizes civil marriages; couples may decide to have a traditional or religious ceremony, but they do not have any legal value. Polygamy is illegal in Laos, so both the husband and wife must be single at the time of marriage. If either of them has been married in the past, they are required to provide proof of the dissolution of their marriage in the form of a certificate of death or divorce. 

The law of marriage states that before any man who has attained the legal age of marriage is allowed to marry, he must receive permission to do so by sending representatives from his family to receive consent to marriage from the family of the bride. As stated earlier, marriage must be contracted voluntarily, and both parties must give consent to marriage before it can be considered to have been entered into voluntarily. The consent given by the husband and wife must not be obtained with the use of force or coercion, and it must be void of any form of external influence. The law prohibits forced marriages and provides appropriate punishment for anyone found guilty of forcing marriage. 

If a woman is forced to enter into marriage, the legal guardian of the woman at that time is liable to face up to 3–12 months imprisonment, and anyone found guilty of planning and executing marriage for a girl who has not attained the legal age of marriage and is forced to marry against her own will is liable to face up to 1–3 years imprisonment. After the wedding ceremony, both the husband and wife are required to register their marriages at the civil registry with the officer of the registry. The minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years for females and males, and while there is no exception for minors to contract a marriage agreement, minors within the age range of 15–17 years are allowed to contract marriage under extenuating circumstances. Same-sex activities are legal within the country; however, same-sex spouses are not allowed to get married.

Rights

In all family concerns, the husband and wife are given equal rights according to the family law that governs the act of marriage in Laos. Both the husband and wife have the right to freedom of movement without any restrictions; the wife has the same right as the husband to travel outside the country and freely move about without having to receive permission. Spouses have the right to file for divorce under the Family Law either by joint agreement or based on specific grounds. However, men do not have the right to file for divorce against their wives if she is pregnant or has an infant who is not yet 1 year old. 

However, women across the country refrain from exercising this right as they face the societal stigma that comes with it. They both have the right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children, and they are entitled to exert parental authority when necessary. The decision to procreate is a joint right available to married couples; they have the right to choose the number of children they want and the type of educational and moral upbringing they want for their children. 

Spouses have equal inheritance rights; the male and female surviving spouse have the same right to inherit both land and non-landed properties. They both have the right to work and be worked for, and they are entitled to receive an equal payment for work done. The husband and wife have the right to be involved in political and government-related activities. They have the right to vote and be voted for. The husband and wife have the right to jointly own accounts for the safekeeping of financial assets. Couples have the right to change their common family name; they can decide to adopt the husband's family name or that of the wife.

Costs

A lot of importance is attached to marriage in Laos; therefore, marriage celebrations are always extravagant. After a groom asks for the hand of the bride in marriage, he is required to pay the dowry or bride price required by the family of the bride. The bride price varies from culture to culture and is determined by the wealth of the husband's family. For couples looking to cut costs on their wedding budget, they can decide to host the event in the living room of the house of the bride's family.

 Couples who are not financially stable can decide to rent an event center, and an average event center in Laos costs around $1,500 to $3,000 depending on the number of guests invited to the ceremony and the location of the venue. The average cost of a wedding in Laos is anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on what the couple hopes to achieve.

Duties

The husband and wife have respective duties and obligations to fulfill in the home, and since so much importance is attached to the role of the family in Laotian society, a lot of expectations are placed on couples to ensure that the home is properly run and managed. Spouses have a duty to one another and the family as a whole to love one another, respect each other's opinions, provide care for one another, and offer assistance when needed. 

They are both obligated to jointly provide all necessary care and a conducive environment for the development and growth of the children. They are both required to jointly contribute to providing basic amenities such as food, clothing, and shelter for the family. The roles of the husband and wife are interchangeable, as the husband can decide to assist in taking care of the children and the home as a whole. The husband and wife have to be dependent on one another to be able to properly manage all the resources in the family.

Conclusion 

Traditional weddings in Laos are usually performed in the bride's family house. The country only recognizes and protects marriages performed in the civil registry; however, the number of marriages performed in accordance with the customs and traditions of communities is also quite high.

Unlike most other countries in the world, engagement ceremonies are not a big deal in Laos. Most couples who get married in the country do not conduct engagement ceremonies at all. Some of the marriage traditions in the country are infused with those of westerners. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Laos.

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