Everything you need to know about marriage in Libya

15 May 2023·22 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Libya 01

Over 50,000 marriages are performed every year in Libya, a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Over half of the population in Libya is under the age of 30, and the country is quite youthful. The two major types of marriages in the country are civil and religious, or "traditional" marriages. However, only a civil marriage is recognized and legally binding. The country operates under the principles of the civil code and the Sharia law court, which implies that only marriages performed in the court are legally binding. The minimum legal age to marry in the country is 20 years; spouses between the ages of 18 and 29 may marry with parental or guardian consent. 

Generally, child marriages are uncommon because the average marriage age for women is about 30 years old and that of men is 34 years old. These age differences are due to the fact that most Libyans, especially women, spend a lot of years in school learning to get higher degrees so as to be able to earn high incomes to support themselves and their families. The marriage rate in Libya has decreased over the years while the divorce rate has been on the rise. There are several factors that account for this. In the country, there is a high cost of housing and living generally, and a lot of Libyans are discouraged from getting married because of the high cost of conducting and maintaining a marriage in the country. 

An initiative was put in place to help young Libyans get married by providing financial support to them. This was primarily done to foster marriages in the country; however, it has also been known to have a negative effect. Due to the financial grant and benefits offered, a lot of couples have been getting married in the country and divorcing after a short period of time just for the purpose of enjoying the financial provision. The rest of the article will show you more about the types of marriages in Libya.

Civil marriage 

Civil marriages are the only types of marriages that are legally binding in Libya. A civil marriage in Libya is performed by an authorized registrar or judge at the registry office or court. Couples may choose the court in the district or municipality of their residence. To be officially married in the country, a civil marriage cannot be avoided. Before any other form of marriage is conducted and accepted, spouses must show a marriage certificate stating that they have performed a civil ceremony and are officially husband and wife. The marriage age allowed in Libya generally ranges between 18 and 29 years. Ages younger than 20 are required to provide parental or guardian consent. 

In some cases, a judge’s authorization may also be needed. Couples are able to conduct civil marriages both in the country and abroad. A Libyan in a foreign country may lawfully get married in the embassy of Libya in that country. There are conditions to be met and paperwork to be submitted during the marriage application to get the marriage registered. Most civil marriage ceremonies last only a few minutes, and this type of marriage is usually completed within 15 to 30 minutes. In actuality, civil marriages are also the cheapest form of marriage in the country. Unlike religious and traditional marriages, where various rituals and customs are performed, this type of marriage is only concerned with the couple obtaining a legal marriage license. Civil marriages are not usually attended by a crowd or a large number of guests. The documents that must be submitted by partners getting married in Libya are stated below.

Documents Required

  • National Identification Card or valid passport
  • Birth certificate. The document must include the official current names of both spouses.
  • Deed poll. This may be required by couples who previously had their names changed. The court will inform the spouses if this is one of the required documents.
  • Both spouses are required to submit copies of their photographs, which must be on a white background. Preferably, these passport photographs should be recent and taken in the last few months prior to the marriage.
  • Divorce and death certificates Separated or widowed spouses are required to submit either of these documents that apply to them as a result of their previous marriage termination.
  • Payment of all required registration fees

In Libya, foreign spouses may request documents that are not available to them from their home country or the embassy or consulate of their home country in Libya. These documents must include an official's legal stamp to be apostille-able. The typical waiting period before a couple can obtain a marriage certificate is 72 days. However, in some cases, this timeframe may increase.

Religious marriage 

Religion in Libya is not very diverse. More than 90% of the total population are Muslims, and the rest are Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, mostly made up of foreigners. Religious marriages in the country hold no legal grounds and, as such, are not typically recognized or protected in the country. Most couples getting married in the country perform a civil marriage first, followed by a religious marriage. 

Even though religious marriages are not legally binding, they are still widely practiced all over the country. This is due to the fact that a Muslim marriage must be performed before two partners are seen as being officially married in Islam. Muslim marriages usually begin with both families meeting each other, and once the marriage is decided upon, a Nikah ceremony is held. During this ceremony, the spouses sign a marriage contract stating the terms of marriage, and they are pronounced husband and wife by the imam.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Libya 02

Marriage traditions in Libya

Extensive ceremonies 

A typical Libyan wedding ceremony lasts for several days, and in the course of these days, different types of celebrations and gatherings are held. In ancient times, marriage ceremonies used to last up to 7 days; however, this has changed in recent times. Nowadays, most extended marriages do not exceed three days. It all comes down to the couple as well as their family in regards to their financial buoyancy and how big they want the wedding ceremony to be.

Hammam

This is a ceremonial rite that is still popular in local regions. Here, the bride and her closest friends go to the hammam dressed in elegant traditional attire. The Hammam is supposed to refresh the bride and get her ready for marriage and the new era she is about to face. Some people believe it also protects them from bad luck.

Sarir 

This is a ritual that is unique to the Libyans. Here, the bride appears before the family and guests with her face covered, and she is usually accompanied by family members to look at the sky. The bride holds a knife and reveals her face seven different times with her knife pointing at the sky to see if she will be able to capture the wedding star. This ritual is still practiced in some Libyan marriages to this day.

Same-sex marriages 

Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal in Libya. Since 1953, the status of same-sex individuals and same-sex sexual activities have been illegal. There are no discrimination protections available to same-sex spouses, and they do not get to enjoy the rights and benefits available to opposite-sex couples. There are no adoption or inheritance rights available, and the act of this type of marriage or union can lead to up to five years in prison.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is recognized and legal in Libya. This is because the country is governed by the principles of Sharia law, which allows polygamous marriages. During the previous regime, a man had to show he was capable of marrying multiple wives before proceeding to do so; this has been scrapped. A man can freely marry as many wives as he wants. Polygamous marriages have declined in the country over the years.

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Marriage laws and rights, costs, and duties

Laws

Sharia law is the foundation upon which the laws guiding marriage are founded. Those who wish to contract marriage must understand and abide by these laws before marriage can be legally binding. The official religion of the country is Islam; therefore, the laws by which the civil courts regulate marriage are governed by Sharia law. In Libya, religious marriages and customary marriages are not legally recognized; a marriage is only recognized when the Sharia court authorizes it. Same-sex activity and marriage are illegal in Libya and are considered punishable events with jail terms of up to 5 years. It is outrightly illegal for men of the same sex to engage in sexual activity, while it is partially allowed for women to engage in homosexual activity.

Cohabiting couples are not recognized by the law, irrespective of how long they've lived together or how many children they have together. Couples must have an in-depth understanding of the concept of marriage before they can give their full consent to marriage. Marriage must not be contracted without the consent of both parties; no one can enter into marriage against his or her will; the interested parties have to give their consent free from any form of influence from third parties. The legal guardian of the bride, also known as the wali, must give consent to the marriage; if he doesn't give consent based on an insignificant reason, the bride can take the matter to court, and the judge's permission would allow the marriage to be contracted. 

Forced marriages contracted against the will of one or both spouses are an offense according to the law; marriage is meant to be done voluntarily. Polygamy is legal in Libya, but it is not commonly practiced. A man can marry up to four wives, provided he proves to the court that he has the financial means and promises to treat them all equally. The consent of his current wife or wives must also be obtained. If he does not meet these requirements, he will be denied access to marry more wives. Polyandry is a concept that is forbidden in Libya; women are not allowed to marry more than one husband. Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men unless he converts to Islam, whereas she is allowed to marry a non-Libyan Muslim after receiving permission from the government. 

Men, on the other hand, are allowed to marry non-Muslim women. The marriage must be held in the court in the presence of the presiding sheikh, and the couple must present at least two witnesses at the time of marriage. The legal age for contracting marriage in Libya is 20 years for both boys and girls; exceptions are made for persons within the ages of 18 and 19, provided parental consent or a judge's permission is obtained. A woman cannot be in an existing marriage while contracting a new one. To prove her marital status if she has been previously married, she is required to present a certificate of divorce or death in the event of widowhood. 

Foreigners are allowed to get married in Libya provided there is no legal impediment to marriage and they are able to provide all necessary documents, such as identity documents. Marriage between persons who share the same ancestor, such as siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc., is not allowed. People who are related by alliance through marriage or adoption are prohibited from contracting marriage. Marriage by proxy is not allowed in Libya; couples have to be present throughout the process of contracting marriage and on the day of the ceremony.

Rights

Libya stands apart when it comes to certain rights that are available to and exercised by couples in Libya. As opposed to many Arab countries that grant a man the right to talaq, which is the right to divorce his wife just by saying "I divorce you" three times, Libya grants both the husband and wife the right to file and finalize an actual divorce. Even if the man does talaq, he has to receive a Corts petition to make it valid; otherwise, such an act is invalid and the couple is still legally married. Libyan wives also have the right to khula, which is the right to divorce her husband on other grounds, provided she is ready to let go of her financial rights if she is found guilty. 

If the divorce was based on mutual agreement, the wife is granted the right to gain custody of the children until they are able to fend for themselves. The husband and wife have the right to decide whether or not they want to have children. They also have the right to decide the number of children they wish to have. They also have the right to raise the children according to their various religious and moral beliefs. The wife has the right to receive maintenance from her husband; she has the right to ensure that he does not cause her any form of harm. The husband does not have the right to demand obedience from his wife, but she has to make herself available. Both the husband and wife are seen as equals under the law. 

The husband has the right to stop his wife from working. The man is seen as the head of the house; therefore, he is granted the right to assume the role of legal guardian of the children, while the mother has the right to be seen as their primary care giver. Both parties have the right to actively participate in political activities, and they have the right to run for office without any limitations. They both have the right to exercise their civil, religious, cultural, property, and inheritance rights without any discrimination. The female surviving spouse has the same inheritance rights as the male surviving spouse; they both possess the right to own, use, and dispose of property as they see fit.

Costs

The cost of marriage in Libya is pretty expensive due to the long number of celebration days. Libyan weddings can last up to five days, with a different celebration each day. An average wedding in Libya costs around €8,000, which is around 40,750 Libyan dinars. What the couple hopes to achieve at the ceremony determines how much money will be put into the wedding budget. Couples who are more financially capable frequently spend far more on their wedding celebrations than the above cost. 

Pressure is mounted on couples to make the wedding as glamorous and expensive as possible. Tens of thousands, if not millions, of dinars are spent on weddings; money is spent on everything down to the minutest detail in a Libyan wedding. A Libyan national who wishes to marry a foreigner is required to pay at least 5000 Libyan dinars, while a foreigner who wishes to marry a Libyan woman has to pay 3000 Libyan dinars, and Libyans who marry one another have to pay 30 Libyan dinars to the government during the registration of marriage. 

The government is offering help to many young couples who wish to contract marriage but do not have the means to; wedding ceremonies are for the rich and wealthy, and they always take the opportunity to show off how wealthy they are. Middle-class citizens who wish to copy wealthy families often have to borrow or save up for years before the ceremony. The cost of getting married in Libya is not fixed, as traditions vary from one city to another. The wedding attire of the couple, food and beverages, music at the wedding by Libyan traditional singers, and the very long list of guests all contribute to the expensive cost of getting married in Libya.

Duties

Libyan society is founded on Sharia laws; therefore, the duties of the husband and wife in the home are based on the dictates of the law. The husband and wife owe it to one another to keep the family running smoothly. The couple are obligated to provide for the maintenance and well-being of the family. This duty often falls on the shoulders of the husband; if the woman has the means to support herself, she is obligated to contribute. 

They both have a duty to provide a conducive environment for the development of the children in the home. The wife is expected to manage, supervise, and run the home properly; she is obligated to perform her duty by taking on the domestic housework. She is seen as the primary caregiver of the family; she is obligated to take care of the children and her husband. The couple has a duty to respect and support one another. 

The wife is expected to respect her husband's family members, and in return, her husband is expected to demand respect on behalf of his wife from his family members. They both have a duty to decide the moral inclination of the family. They both have a duty to protect themselves and the family from any form of harm or violence targeted towards them. Since family is the nucleus of society, the couple has a duty to perform their roles and responsibilities to ensure the smooth running of the family and the community as a whole.

Final Thoughts 

Libya is one of the largest Arab countries in the world, and there are various unique marriage traditions celebrated in the country. The civil and sharia laws guide the marriage practices of Muslims, Christians, and every other religion in the country. Traditional and religious marriages hold no legal grounds, and only marriages performed civilly in court are recognized.
A civil marriage performed in Libya is recognized in other countries around the world. Marriage through the use of proxies and online meetings are not permitted in the country, and all spouses are required to be physically present during the course of the ceremony. Once a marriage certificate is drawn up, couples are free to organize any other type of marriage or celebration they prefer. This article has shown you everything you need to know about marriage in Libya.

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