Everything you need to know about marriage in Sri Lanka

25 Apr 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Sri Lanka 01

Sri Lanka is an island country in South Asia and one of the most popular spots for destination weddings in the world. The country is filled with various natural attractions, like exotic beach resorts and other beautiful venues. Over 150,000 marriages are performed in the country by foreigners and Sri Lankan nationals every year. The country is famous for being the third-best spot for destination weddings, and couples from different countries around the world host their wedding ceremonies there.

Civil and religious marriages are both recognized and protected under the laws of the country. In Sri Lanka, marriage registration is not compulsory, and couples can be lawfully married without registering their marriage in the country. There are certain times of the year when most wedding ceremonies occur because of the favorable weather conditions. Most wedding ceremonies are held between April and September. The legal marriage age for spouses in the country is 18 years, and underage marriages are prohibited except in special cases where parental consent is provided. The marriage laws in the country also apply to foreign spouses who want to marry in Sri Lanka. Marriage ceremonies are very important events in the lives of Sri Lankans, and some couples usually save and plan for years to be able to have the ceremony of their dreams. Monogamous marriages are the most popular in the country. Most people have single spouses; however, polygamy is not prohibited. It’s all based on the decisions of couples. This article will touch on the main types of Sri Lankan marriage as well as their laws and traditions.

Civil marriage 

Civil marriages are legally binding in Sri Lanka. This type of marriage is performed by an authorized registrar or notary and takes place in the registry’s office. Both foreigners and Sri Lankans can get married civilly, but there are conditions that must be met by both parties before a marriage is allowed. A foreign spouse must have lived in Sri Lanka for four days before making a marriage application. Some of the marriage laws in the country are quite different from those of most countries in the world. In Sri Lanka, couples do not need to register their marriage before they can be considered officially married.

In Sri Lanka, certain marriage conditions must be met by both spouses, and they must be fully eligible before their union can be legal and lawfully recognized. Both spouses must be at least 18 years old and single at the time of marriage. There must be no objections to their union, and the health and mental status of the two spouses must be intact. Forced marriages are not allowed, and spouses must enter a marriage of their own free will, without threats or coercion from any party. The documents that are required from Sri Lankan and foreign couples have slight differences, and they must be submitted during the registration procedure.

Documents required (for Sri Lankan and foreign nationals)

  • Copies of the birth certificate This document must carry all the correct information about the spouses and their parents' names.
  • A valid means of identification. Sri Lankan spouses must provide a national ID card, while foreigners may provide a valid passport.
  • A deed poll. This is applicable to spouses who changed their names, either by their own decision or due to previous marriages.
  • A notice of marriage. The couple must make an official public declaration that they are getting married so as to ensure the public is aware and nothing comes up that may prevent the marriage from happening.
  • Bachelor certificate. This paperwork must be submitted by spouses to confirm their civil status in the country. Foreign partners may request this document from their home country or the consulate or embassy of their country in Sri Lanka.
  • Health declaration certificate. This document applies to spouses who are from another country. The document must show that the partner is medically fit and has not suffered from any illnesses or venereal diseases that may affect the marriage later on.
  • Proof of residency Foreign spouses must submit this document as evidence that they have been living in Sri Lanka for the stipulated time frame before the marriage.
  • Divorce decree. This must be provided by spouses from a previous marriage that was legally terminated due to the former spouse's separation.
  • Death certificate. Widowed partners must submit this paperwork to serve as proof that the previous marriage they were in was resolved and terminated due to the demise of the former spouse.
  • Full payment of required fees. The registry may provide an option to further speed up the registration process for additional fees. Couples who need to marry quickly for various reasons may consider this.

    Spouses from another country may request additional documents that are not available to them from their home country or from authorities at the consulate or embassy of their home country in Sri Lanka. The official languages of the country are Sinhala and Tamil. All foreign documents must be officially translated into one or both of these languages, notarized, and apostille to prove their legitimacy. Foreign spouses may also require an interpreter if they do not speak the languages in the country.


Religious and traditional marriage

Sri Lanka comprises different religions, but the predominant religion in the country is Buddhism. About 70% of the total population of Sri Lanka are Buddhists, and marriages are celebrated under the laws and beliefs of this faith. The next most popular religion in the country is Hinduism, followed by Islam, and then Christianity. 

Religious and traditional marriages in Sri Lanka are both recognized and protected under the laws of the country. As stated earlier, marriage registration is not mandatory, and couples have the freedom to decide if they want to perform an official marriage ceremony. Cohabitation is fully recognized in the country. Couples who have been living together for a long period as husband and wife are recognized under the laws of the country. After declaring themselves, they get to enjoy some of the rights and benefits married couples enjoy. Depending on the beliefs or faith of the spouses, various ceremonies are performed during Sri Lankan marriages. Buddhists in the country perform the Poruwa Ceremony.

Poruwa Ceremony

These ceremonies and traditions have been celebrated for many years and passed down through different generations. The wedding ceremony is performed on the poruwa, a traditional wooden platform that is elegantly adorned with various decorations and ornaments. At the beginning of the ceremony, it is customary for the bride and groom to walk up to the poruwa while facing the guests with their right foot in a forward position. The groom's family is often seated on the right side of the poruwa, while the bride's family is on the left side. The couples then greet each other traditionally by holding their palms together. After greeting, the marriage celebrant gives the couple betel leaves, which are eventually returned to the officiant so as to put them on the poruwa. Here, different members of the family carry out various duties, and the bride's mother gives the bride a plate of milk and rice, which she feeds to her husband. The husband is also required to feed the wife, and after this is concluded, the newlyweds may then step off the Poruwa.

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Marriage traditions in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka includes various cultures, and there are unique customs and traditions that are performed during marriages according to the beliefs of the couples' faith and community. Some of the popular marriage traditions in Sri Lanka are listed below.

Engagement ceremony

Wedding planning in Sri Lanka can take several weeks, if not months. During the engagement ceremony, the groom's family and the bride's family meet officially to discuss the union between their children. The groom's family prepares a marriage proposal, while the bride's family also presents a bride price or dowry to be paid. If the bride's family decides to accept the marriage proposal, they present the bride price, which must be paid before the marriage ceremony is allowed to take place. The bride's price usually includes a long list of items.

Presenting the white cloth

This is a unique ceremonial rite that is still performed in marriages today. Here, the groom gives the bride a white cloth. The white cloth is a tradition used by the groom to symbolize gratitude to the bride's family. After the bride receives the white cloth, she presents it to her mother. This is how the groom thanks her for raising the bride. This is a rite people usually look forward to, and it is often a very heartwarming part of the ceremony.

Pirith Nool 

This is an ancient tradition that is still practiced by some couples, especially those in rural communities. Here, a sacred thread known as the Pirith Nool is tied around the hands of both spouses to represent their union. The pinky fingers of the bride and groom are often tied together by the wedding officiant, and then holy water (Pirith pan) is poured into the fingers from a jug. Water and earth are considered sacred elements in Buddhism, and this tradition is important during wedding ceremonies.

Same-sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Sri Lanka. Two people of the same sex are not allowed to get married through civil marriage or other forms of marriage available in the country. The crimes of homosexuality and sexual relations between same-sex couples can result in up to two years in prison with the payment of fines.
Same-sex couples are not recognized or protected under the laws of the country, and the rights and benefits available to spouses of the opposite sex are not available to them. Same-sex couples cannot join the military or adopt children, and homosexual men are also banned from donating blood in the country.

Polygamy in Sri Lanka

Polygamy is legal in Sri Lanka. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives and live with them lawfully while enjoying the benefits and rights of marriage. In the old days, a woman used to be allowed to marry multiple men in the kingdom of Kandy. However, this is no longer the norm. Even though polygamous marriages are permitted in Sri Lanka, most marriages are still between just a man and a woman.
Monogamous relationships still remain the most common type of union, and polygamy is mostly practiced by wealthy men who have the financial capabilities to cater to the needs of several wives and children that result from the marriage. Foreign spouses may also practice this type of marriage, provided that it is permitted in their home country.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws and Rights

Marriage between two people who are related by a degree of consanguinity or affinity is prohibited. Siblings and other close relatives are not permitted to marry in Sri Lanka. The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years, and unless parental consent is provided for spouses younger than this age, they may not get married. If a marriage is forced or held under coercion, such a marriage is considered invalid and void in the country. Marriage registration is not mandatory in the country, and couples may become officially married without conducting a registration. Polygamy is prohibited by the country's penal codes. This law applies to all citizens of Sri Lanka except Muslims, where polygamous marriages are accepted under their faith. There is no specific law in Sri Lanka prohibiting domestic violence; however, sexual and physical violence are prohibited under the general penal code. 

Marital rape is not considered a criminal offense, and a spouse may only face legal consequences when a court order has been put in place that separates the couple. Traditionally, a woman must provide written consent if she wants to transfer her own immovable property.
Under their religious faith and beliefs, both partners have the legal right to enter into a legal marriage and beat children. 

The husband and wife both have the right to file for divorce under certain conditions, including malicious desertion, adultery, or infidelity, and incurable impotence. In Sri Lanka, domestic abuse is not considered a valid ground for divorce; however, it may lead to legal separation. The husband and wife have different parental authorities. The husband is considered the natural legal guardian, while the wife or mother is considered the custodian with the responsibility of raising the children. If the husband dies, the wife and children have the right to share his property equally between them. Both spouses have equal rights to receive bank loans and mortgages and are entitled to their own respective obligations and liabilities.

Costs 

The cost of civil registration and marriage in Sri Lanka falls below $100. There is not much to be spent on besides the required fees for the application and documents to be submitted. The cost of traditional wedding ceremonies depends on the number of guests that will be in attendance as well as the total cost of the gifts bought by the groom during the engagement. Weddings can cost anywhere between $5000 and $25,000, with the major expenses being the cost of renting the venue, catering, photography, and transportation. The larger the number of guests, the more expensive the ceremony becomes.

Duties 

The husband and wife are responsible and obligated to love and respect each other. They are supposed to be the better halves of each other and offer their support at all times. The husband and wife owe it to each other to be faithful and to respect each other's honor. Traditionally, a man is seen as the breadwinner of the family, and he must provide all the necessities required by his family to live a good life. Both spouses have the duty of bearing children and raising them. There have been advancements in equality over the years in Sri Lanka, and spouses are supposed to treat each other fairly and equally. They should discuss and make mutual decisions on matters affecting each other as well as the entire household at large.

Conclusion   

Sri Lanka is one of the most popular spots for destination weddings, and thousands of foreigners get married in the country every year. The majority of the marriages that are performed in Sri Lanka are under the Buddhist faith. Buddhism is the largest religion in the country, and its principles and customs are followed for religious marriage ceremonies. Before a marriage is performed, spouses are required to ensure that all the marriage requirements have been fully met.

Sri Lankans who are temporarily in a foreign country may get married at the consulate or embassy of Sri Lanka. Once all the required documents are properly filled out and submitted, the marriage will be allowed to take place. Most couples celebrate their marriages in two parts, with the first one being the customary ceremony and the second one often being a celebration party for the newlyweds. This article is a complete guide to everything you need to know about marriage in Sri Lanka.

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