Everything you need to know about marriage in Liberia

26 Jul 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Liberia 01

Liberia is a West African country famous for its rich national culture and history. The country has palm-lined beaches, which serve as locations for weddings for both foreigners and native Liberians. Thousands of marriages are performed annually in the country in either a civil or statutory ceremony or a traditional or customary ceremony. Under the traditional laws of the country, a man is allowed to perform multiple marriages. Civil marriages performed in Liberia hold legal grounds in the country as well as in other African countries and the rest of the world. There are different customs and traditions that are performed by spouses, as well as their families and friends, during marriage ceremonies. 

Marriages in the country are important events that are looked forward to by all members of the family. In ancient Liberia, marriages used to be arranged between families in the same clans or ethnic groups. This was performed as a way of strengthening the family bond and helping the ethnic group grow stronger. Both interfaith and interethnic marriages were not very popular. As time passed, the norm changed, and interfaith and interethnic marriages are now very popular in the country. Each ethnicity has its own unique way of performing marriage. Some couples perform religious and traditional weddings together. The ceremonial rites are combined, but traditional marriages often run for longer periods with various marriage rituals that must be done before and during the wedding ceremony. 

The legal minimum marriage age in Liberia is 18 years for females and 21 years for males. Under special circumstances, a spouse between the ages of 16 and 17 may be allowed to marry in the country. Child marriages are prevalent in Liberia, with about 36 percent of all marriages entered by spouses below the age of 18. The prevalent rate among those below the age of 15 is 9 percent. These marriages stem from gender inequality and poverty in the country. Continue reading to find out more about the marriage laws and rights in Liberia.

Civil marriages

Civil marriages performed in Liberia are recognized and protected under the laws of the country. This type of marriage is legal in every other country on the planet. A civil marriage is also referred to as a "statutory marriage," which is performed in accordance with the civil codes of the country. There are various documents that both male and female spouses are required to provide during the process of performing a civil marriage in Liberia. Some additional documents may be required from foreign spouses in a bid to confirm their identity as well as their marital and legal status in their home country and Liberia. Foreign spouses are required to provide a single status certificate. 

This certificate will show that such a foreign spouse is in good legal standing in their home country and is currently single and available for marriage in Liberia. To begin the civil marriage process, both spouses must visit the registrar's office to declare a formal intention to marry. Once the intention to marry is expressed, the registrar provides the partners with an application form that must be followed appropriately. Spouses are required to provide a valid form of identification, which must have been obtained recently. During the registration process, the spouses will be required to provide valid witnesses. 

These witnesses must be Liberians, and they are also required to provide their own means of identification. After all the documents are submitted, the spouses sign the marriage certificate alongside their witnesses. There are frequently two separate marriage certificates, one given to the couple and the other retained at the registry for the marriage officer to file in his or her office. The registrar of marriage in the couple's district, where the marriage ceremony was performed, is responsible for recording the marriage in the marriage register book. All district registrars are required to send a certified copy of all entries made in the Marriage Register Book during the preceding month to the civil status departments. The Registrar General files the copy in his or her office within a 10-day period from the last day of the month. 

All marriage applications and registrations must be done in person. The use of proxies is not allowed. The official language of the country is English, and foreign documents provided by spouses from other countries must be translated to English by an accredited translator if they are in other languages. All documents must be apostilled with an authorization stamp to prove their legitimacy. The marriage certificate is usually ready to be issued one week after it was signed by the spouses and other parties involved; there are cases where it may take longer, up to two or three days. The documents that must be submitted by the spouses getting married are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. This includes a Liberian national ID card or a valid passport from a foreign spouse.
  • Government-issues Birth certificates must be provided by both partners.
  • Both partners must sign the completed Notice of Intention to Marry.
  • Two witnesses who have the legal capacity to act as such must be provided by both spouses.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Partners who were previously married must provide either of these documents to show they legally terminated their previous marriage.

Religious and customary marriages

In Liberia, spouses have the authority to perform a religious or customary marriage. These types of marriages are also recognized and protected under the laws of the country. The predominant religion in Liberia is Christianity. Over 85 percent of the total population of the country is Christian. About 12 percent are Muslims, and 0.6 percent of the people living in the country are traditionalists. 

Traditional marriages in Liberia often involve a lot of ceremonial rites such as dancing and singing, which the guests as well as the members of the family and friends participate in. Christian marriages often begin with a processional. The groom and his best man are often the first to enter the church. They may either enter through the main door and walk down the aisle or use the side door. After everyone else has entered the church, the bride and her father usually walk down the aisle last.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Liberia 02

Marriage traditions in Liberia

Making a proposal

Marriages do not happen in the country without the permission of the parents of both spouses. The groom is required to approach the family of the bride and ask for their blessing and approval before he is allowed to marry their daughter.

Engagement Ceremony 

In Liberia, the engagement ceremony is very important at weddings. Here, the groom as well as other members of his family formally meet the bride's family. This ceremony may be performed in a public place or the residence of either of the families. The engagement is usually performed in the bride's family.

Dowry 

Tradition says a groom is required to pay the parents of the bride he is to marry before the actual wedding ceremony takes place. After the groom makes his intentions known to the bride's family, he is required to pay her family as an expression of appreciation for all their years of love and care for his wife-to-be.

Same-sex marriages 

Homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities are illegal in the country for both males and females. There is no recognition for any form of union or marriage between people of the same sex. The practice of this act may result in imprisonment and the payment of fines.

Polygamy in Liberia

In Liberia, the civil laws are different from the customary law in the aspect of polygyny. Under the civil marriage laws, a man is not allowed to marry more than one woman at a time. This also applies to women. However, under the customary laws, polygamy is legal, and men are allowed to marry multiple wives.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

In Liberia, marriage is a very important institution; therefore, before marriage can take place, interested parties are required to have an adequate understanding of the concept of marriage and the laws, rights, and duties it entails. Marriage in Liberia can be either a civil marriage under statutory laws or a traditional marriage under customary laws. The civil marriage laws state that monogamy is the only form of marriage that is recognized. A man is not allowed to marry more than one wife at the same time, nor are the couples allowed to have any legally binding marriages at the time of contracting a new marriage agreement with another person. They must be single (unmarried, divorced, or widowed). 

Bigamy and polygamy are against the civil law of marriage in Liberia. Any spouse-to-be who has been married in the past is required by law to prove that such a marriage is nonexistent or has been dissolved. That is not the case under the customary laws of marriage. Whereas the civil law prohibits polygamous marriages, the customary laws allow them. Ann can marry as many wives as he wishes, so long as he is able to take care of them and promises to treat all of them equally. Under these laws, a man may be allowed to practice bigamy and polygamy. The legal age for marriage in Liberia is 18 years for females and 21 years for males. Persons under the legal drinking age but over the age of 16 are exempt. For this type of marriage to take place, both parties must provide parental consent in the absence of Parental consent, a legal guardian's permission, or a judge's ruling are allowed. 

The marriage of anyone under the age of 16 is against the civil laws of marriage and the customary laws of marriage. Free and willing consent to marriage must be given by the couple; there must not be the use of any form of threat or violence, nor should the couple be under any form of duress. Any marriage formed through the use of force or threats is considered null and void. There must not be any legal impediment to marriage on both sides. Couples are not allowed to marry anyone they are closely related to (directly, indirectly, or through adoption); it is highly prohibited under the law in Liberia. In Liberia, same-sex activities are considered illegal and are punishable by imprisonment for up to 3 years or payment of fines. In other words, same-sex couples are not allowed to carry out homosexual activities, let alone get married, in Liberia because it is prohibited.

Rights

The rights of marriage enjoyed by legally married couples are often spelled out before marriage. Spouses are made to understand that a violation of these rights is a punishable offense, as they are also fundamental rights. Some of these rights are the right to work; the right to property and inheritance; the right to exit a marriage, etc. Under the civil laws of marriage, the husband and wife have the same right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children. They have the right to exercise their parental authority over the children. However, these rights must not be abused and cannot be renounced. In contrast to this, under the customary laws of marriage, only the husband has the right to be recognized as the legal guardian of the children. He only possesses the right to exercise parental authority over the children. 

In the event of the death of the husband, the woman still does not have the right to gain custody of her children; they automatically belong to the family of her husband. Under the civil law of marriage in Liberia, the husband and wife have the same right to inherit land and non-land assets and properties. This also applies to customary marriages; however, a lot of women are not aware of these laws, so they end up not inheriting anything. In Liberia, the husband and wife have the right to make decisions concerning the welfare and well-being of the family jointly. In some areas, the wife is not totally included in this process, but she has a little influence on decisions made.

Costs

To contract a civil marriage in Liberia, it costs around 7,000 LRD, which is approximately $50 to get a marriage application for a marriage license. The cost of the wedding reception after the official marriage has been consummated depends on a number of factors. Couples tend to spend hundreds of thousands on a memorable wedding in Liberia. Couples who wish to have a more intimate ceremony often spend less. The average cost of a wedding reception in Liberia is around 20,000 LRD–50,000 LRD or more, depending on the financial ability of the couple, the number of invited guests, and the size of the wedding. 

Traditional marriages are a little different. Once the dowry has been paid, the wife automatically belongs to the husband. The cost of the dowry varies from one place to another. The bride's parents may ask for money, food stuffs, livestock, and groceries, while some just ask for money. There can be a wedding reception after the traditional formalities have been performed, but it is not mandatory.

Duties

Duties and responsibilities in a typical Liberian home are distributed according to gender roles. The wife is responsible for the domestic chores and housework, such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. She also has a responsibility to take care of her husband and his family members at all times. She must be hospitable and caring and ensure that the home is in order. 

She has a duty to manage the material and nonmaterial resources in the home. She has a looming duty over her head to reproduce, as an inability to do so attracts social stigma. The husband, on the other hand, is responsible for providing for the family. He has a duty to ensure that the family has all the basic amenities, such as food, clothing, and shelter. The financial and economic wellbeing of the family rests on his shoulders. 

They both have a duty to contribute to the wellbeing, health, and comfort of the family and ensure that all the material and non-material needs of the family are met. They must be committed to the marriage, protect one another, respect one another's opinions, and ensure that the family and children have a good and conducive environment to develop.

Conclusion 

All traditional marriages in Liberia include dowry payments to the bride's family. Before the official marriage ceremony takes place, the dowry, usually in the form of kola nuts, livestock, and other food items, is paid to the bride's family.

Liberian wedding ceremonies often involve several marriage rituals that are performed by everyone at the ceremony. Even guests get to participate in the wedding rites, from dancing to singing, feasting, etc. Wedding ceremonies are often performed in a huge celebration, and couples in Liberia like to go all out in terms of marriage traditions and expenses. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Liberia.

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