Everything you need to know about marriage in Malawi

4 Jul 2023·20 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in Malawi 0&

Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa, popularly referred to as the "Warm Heart of Africa." Thousands of marriages are contracted every year in the country, and the country legally recognizes four different types of marriages and unions. A marriage or union can either be civil, customary, religious, or based on permanent cohabitation. All these types of marriages are legally recognized in the country, and they are performed in different ways. Civil marriages often require the submission of certain documents before the marriage is allowed. However, permanent cohabitation is the simplest type of union in Malawi. 

Cohabitation does not involve all the legal formalities associated with civil marriages or all the marriage procedures and rituals associated with religious and customary marriages, but it also has its own conditions that must be met before spouses are able to declare themselves as couples in a cohabitation relationship. The minimum legal marriage age in Malawi is 18 years. In the past, this age used to be as low as 15 years. Under special circumstances, a person below the age of 18 may be allowed to marry; however, they must not be below the age of 16. Of course, Malawi is regarded as the warm heart of Africa, but the narrative is different in terms of the number of child marriages in the country. 

Approximately 42 percent of all marriages in the country were entered by underage children who had not reached the age of 18. In these statistics, about 9 percent of the spouses were married off before reaching the age of 15. Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriages in Africa and the world at large. There have been efforts made to reduce the number of child marriages in the country, and amendments have been made to the laws guiding the age of marriage, but not much difference has been seen. Continue reading to find out more about marriages in Malawi.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are quite popular in Malawi. This type of marriage is not restricted to only Malawian nationals. A foreigner from any country in the world is allowed to legally get married in a civil marriage in Malawi. Civil marriages are performed by the registrar of marriages and must take place in the civil registry located in the region or district where the spouses live. The process of conducting a civil marriage in Malawi involves the submission of several documents. Also, there are certain criteria that must be met by both spouses before the marriage can take place. We discussed the minimum marriage age in the country earlier, and this is something that is verified during the marriage registration. 

Both spouses must also not be related to each other. This includes blood relatives and adoptive siblings or parents. Performing a marriage in this scenario will result in its nullification. To begin the marriage registration process, both spouses are required to sign a notice, which will be sent to the registrar of marriages. This notice must show the intention of both partners to marry, and it must include vital information that states that both spouses give their free will and consent to getting married. After the notice is received by the registrar of marriages, it is pinned on the notice board and left for a certain period. This is known as the registration waiting period, and it can take a couple of days or weeks. 

Once no issue arises, the registrar of marriages will then issue a certificate or minister’s special license showing that the marriage may be performed. After the marriage ceremony has been performed, the registrar will register the marriage and issue an official marriage certificate to the couple. There are certain fees that are attached to the marriage registration. Foreign spouses must ensure that all the documents being submitted have been translated to English by an accredited translator if they are in other foreign languages. Also, all documents obtained from a foreign country must include an authorization stamp known as the apostille as well as a notary. The documents to be submitted by both foreign and Malawian nationals during the marriage registration are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A duplicate of your national identification card or a valid passport
  • Two passport-sized photographs must be submitted by both partners
  • Proof of parental or legal guardian consent
  • Marriage application form. This must have been completely filled out by the bride and groom.
  • Proof of date of birth Both spouses may submit copies of their birth certificates.
  • Proof of current address. The document provided must include the names of the spouses as they are addressed.
  • Affidavits of marriage must be submitted by both the bride and groom.
  • The partners getting married are required to provide three witnesses during the registration.
  • Notice of intention to marry in Malawi
  • Divorce or death certificate. This must be provided by previously married spouses as
  • Proof of the legal termination of the marriage.
  • Proof of the payment of all relevant fees

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are legally binding in Malawi. The country is diverse in terms of religion and ethnic groups. There are two main religions in Malawi, namely, Christianity and Islam. Christianity accounts for over 80 percent of the total population. Church marriages are very popular, and in most churches, spouses have to plan ahead before getting married. 

Church marriages often last about two hours, and they take place mostly on weekends. This type of marriage is officiated by a priest or pastor, and during the ceremony, there will be an exchange of rings and vows before the spouses are pronounced husband and wife. Islamic marriages in the country often involve various rituals from the families of both sides, and it is customary for an engagement ceremony as well as the bride price to be paid by the groom before marriage.

Permanent Cohabitation 

Cohabitation is recognized in Malawi. Partners who have been living together for a certain number of years are allowed to declare themselves to be in a relationship and enjoy some marriage entitlements in the country. Certain requirements must be met by spouses in permanent cohabitation. They must be in a romantic relationship and have been living together for at least 5 years. There must be a level of commitment between both spouses, and they must jointly care for and support their children.

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Marriage traditions in Malawi


This refers to the engagement ceremony in Malawi. Engagement ceremonies are organized before the actual wedding day so that both families can familiarize themselves with each other. There is usually food and drink served when both families dine together.


The lobola refers to the bride price. After the groom makes his intentions of marrying their daughter known to the bride's family, they will present a lobola to him that includes the full list of items he must provide as a way of appreciating the family for taking care of his wife-to-be.

Exchange of Vows

In church weddings, the bride and groom will exchange vows before the pastor or priest formally pronounces them husband and wife. The vows are promises both partners must make to each other, and the church can provide them or the couples can draw up their own marriage vows.

Same-sex marriages

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Malawi. Members of the LGBT community face various legal challenges and discriminations that are not experienced by non-LGBT members. Homosexuality holds no legal status, and it is also illegal for both genders. It may result in up to 14 years' imprisonment for men and 5 years' imprisonment for women. However, it is rarely enforced.

Polygamous marriages 

Under the civil marriage laws, polygamous marriages are prohibited. A man is only allowed to marry one woman, and vice versa. However, customary laws allow men to marry multiple women. According to statistics, one in five women living in Malawi are in a polygamous relationship or marriage.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


Before any marriage is allowed to take place, intending couples must understand and obey the various laws of marriage in their country. Under the law of marriage in Malawi, all civil marriages must be conducted at the marriage registry and registered by a marriage registrar. The law recognizes four forms of marital unions: civil marriages, customary marriages, religious marriages, and de facto unions. Civil marriage laws prohibit the marriage of two people who are already in a legally binding marriage, also known as bigamy. Couples must be single before they can contract marriage. The husband and wife must also be in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage; they must have a comprehensive understanding of the concept of marriage and the rights and duties that come with it. 

Before marriage can be contracted, the husband and wife must give their express consent to marriage. This consent must be given voluntarily and without the use of threats or violence by the couple. If marriage is contracted with the use of force, the marriage would be declared void. The legal age for contracting a civil marriage in Malawi is 18 years for both men and women, and all citizens are allowed to contract marriage once the legal age for marriage has been reached. Persons who have not reached the legal age for marriage and are aged 15 to 18 years are allowed to get married with parental consent or, in the absence of one, with a legal guardian's consent. Persons who are over 18 years old do not need the permission of their parents to get married. 

If either of the spouses has been married and is currently divorced or widowed, they are required by law to submit an original certificate of divorce or a certificate of death. Polygamy is not recognized under the civil laws of marriage in Malawi; marriage is only allowed between one man and one woman. Under the customary laws of marriage in Malawi, the law allows marriage to be conducted according to the traditions and customs of the couple. Under this law, the age of marriage is determined if the couple has reached puberty; therefore, once puberty is reached, a man and woman can be married without any restrictions. Under these laws, polygamy is legal; a man may be allowed to marry more than one woman at the same time, but the woman is not permitted to do the same. Under religious laws, the rules and laws of marriage of the various religious groups of the couple come into play, and the legal age for marriage and requirements for marriage are determined by religious laws. 

Cohabitation is recognized under the law; a man and woman who wish to be recognized as partners but do not want to be officially married are allowed to do so. The law allows such a union to be registered if the parties involved have been living together for at least 5 years. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in the country provided they abide by all the rules and regulations of marriage in Malawi. They must be eligible for marriage in their home country before they are allowed to marry in Malawi. Before a marriage can take place, all documentation must be submitted and verified as valid.


The various laws of marriage grant all couples equal rights in marriage. Couples have the right to work and receive equal pay for that work; they are all recognized as equals at the workplace, and they have the same right to fill positions of authority at that workplace. All couples have the right to file for and finalize divorce; the law demands the same requirements from the husband and wife to finalize divorce; however, under civil marriage laws, the husband and wife do not have the right to file for divorce until after 3 years have passed, except in extreme cases of abuse and hardship. 

The husband and wife have the right to decide on the marital regime of property they wish to contract at the time of marriage. Couples can decide to have a joint marital regime of property or a separate marital regime of property. Once divorce is contracted, all properties under the joint regime are divided equally between the husband and wife, but all properties under the separate regime are not divided. The husband and wife have equal rights to receive custody of the children after divorce has been finalized, and they have equal visitation rights as well. 

The wife has the right to receive maintenance from her husband, and in return, he has the right to receive obedience from his wife at all times. The husband and wife have the same right to confer their nationality on their foreign spouses and children without any restrictions. The right to be recognized as the legal guardian of the children and also exercise parental authority over the children is granted to the husband and wife under the law in Malawi.


The cost of marriage in Malawi varies according to the various forms of marriage. To contract a civil marriage, couples need to obtain a marriage license and certificate, which cost around 20,000 Malawi Kwacha. Couples should expect to spend between 500,000 and 5 million kwachas to host a wedding ceremony in Malawi; more financially capable couples will spend millions of kwachas. The bride's wedding gown costs between 500 and 1,800 Malawi Kwacha. The cost of the groom's gown is also expensive, but it depends on whether it is bought or rented.

Brides spend as much as 1,700 Malawi Kwacha on makeup, and bridesmaids spend even more, around 2,500 Malawi Kwacha. Couples spend around 2 million Malawi Kwacha on photography and videography for the event; the accessories and rings for the groom and bride cost around 500,000 Malawi Kwacha. The decoration for the wedding reception depends on the size of the reception venue and the number of invited guests, but it is estimated to cost around 1 million Malawi Kwacha. Couples who want a simpler wedding should expect to spend around $200,000 on wedding decorations.


The husband and wife have various duties to perform in the family to ensure the functionality of the family as the foundation of society. The husband and wife have a duty to respect, love, and care for one another; they must provide equal respect and assistance for one another at all times. There must not be any use of force or abuse in communicating with one another in marriage. Once children are added to the family, the husband and wife have a joint duty to take care of the children. 

While the wife is required to be the primary caregiver in the home, the husband is also required to provide for all the needs of the family at all times. The husband and wife must contribute jointly to the health and comfort of the family. They have a duty to protect all the members of the family at all times. They have a duty to communicate with one another and face the challenges that come with marriage together.


Malawi has a different set of laws guiding the act of marriage. Some customary marriage laws are quite different from civil laws guiding the act of marriage. Also, foreigners are allowed to perform any of the legal types of marriage in Malawi.

In most customary marriages in Malawi, the groom is expected to pay the bride price. The bride price can be livestock or any other item demanded by the bride's family. If the groom declines, the marriage will not take place. We hope this article has helped you understand everything you need to know about marriage in Malawi.