Everything you need to know about marriage in the Congo

27 Jun 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in the Congo 01

Congo is a Central African country also known as the Republic of Congo, the Congo Republic, or Congo-Brazzaville. Every year, thousands of marriages are celebrated in the country by Congolese nationals and foreigners from other countries. Congo is a former French colony, and the current legal system is based on French civil law and customary laws. The sources of law guiding the act of marriage in the country are the constitution, legislation, and customary laws. There are three major types of marriages performed in the country. These are civil, religious, and customary marriages. 

These three marriages are legally binding in the country. Congo is dominated by Christians, who make up over half of the population, and most marriages are performed under the religion of Christianity. Foreigners have the freedom to perform any type of marriage they want in Congo, provided that they meet all the required criteria for such marriages. Generally, the law does not make the same provisions for men and women when they enter marriage. In a civil marriage setting, both the man and woman may be regarded as equals, but in customary marriages, the man is the head of the family, and his will and decisions are mostly superior to those of his spouse. 

In all marriages, regardless of what type it is, both the man and woman must give their free consent before such marriage is allowed to happen. In Congo, the legal marriage age for the male spouse is 21 years, while that of the female spouse is 18 years. Under the legal framework of the country, child marriages are void and prohibited. Only the public prosecutor has the authority to approve a marriage under certain circumstances where either or both spouses are below the age of 18. Continue trading to find out more about the marriage traditions in Congo.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages performed in the Congo hold legal grounds in the country as well as other parts of the world. This type of marriage is performed by a state-authorized marriage officer in a civil registry and can be performed by both Congolese nationals and other foreigners in the country. There are general documents that must be submitted during the marriage application and registration; however, there may be some additional information or paperwork required from foreign spouses. Congolese nationals in other foreign countries who wish to get married may do so by contacting the Embassy of Congo in that country. 

Most of the documents that will be requested from the couple at the embassy are similar to those of the local registry in the country. Foreign spouses are required to provide a document to show that they are single at the time of marriage. If such spouse was in a previous marriage, they must provide valid documents to show that all divorces have been finalized and there are no legal prohibitions due to crimes committed or other factors. The minimum marriage age in Congo is high when compared to most other African countries, and spouses who have not reached this age are not allowed to marry in the country unless they have been given authorization in a special situation. Forced and child marriages are illegal in Congo. 

As a result, before the marriage registration process begins, the registrar frequently verifies that there are no problems with the union and asks both spouses if they are entering the marriage voluntarily. Civil marriages are performed during weekdays and business hours, and the whole ceremony generally takes less than 30 to 40 minutes. However, the process of registering the marriage and obtaining a marriage certificate may take a few weeks. The marriage officer often makes a public announcement at the beginning of a marriage application. This serves as a notice to the general public that a ceremony is coming up, and during this time, anyone who has an objection to the marriage is required to step forward and make their issues known to the registry. The official language in Congo is French. 

All documents obtained from other countries must be translated into this language by an accredited translator in that country. All foreign paperwork must include an apostille to prove its legitimacy. During the marriage ceremony, the spouses are required to provide two witnesses. For marriage ceremonies that are performed in French, the couple has the option of hiring an interpreter who will be available during the ceremony. Civil marriages follow the civil codes of the country, and only spouses of the opposite sex are allowed to marry. The documents that must be submitted by spouses during the marriage registration are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • National Identity Card or valid passport
  • Government-issued birth certificates must be submitted by both spouses.
  • Proof of single status. This is a document to show that both spouses were single at the time of marriage. It can be a certificate if there is no impediment to marrying or an affidavit of civil status by a foreign spouse.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Spouses who were previously married must submit either of these documents as proof that they legally terminated the former marriage.
  • Proof of address A foreign spouse may be required to submit proof of residency in Congo before the marriage application.
  • Both applicants are required to provide two witnesses who will be available during the marriage registration.

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are also recognized and protected by law in Congo. These types of marriages are performed in accordance with the principles of the spouses' religious beliefs or the customs and traditions of their community. The predominant religion in the Republic of Congo is Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination, with over 52 percent of the population, followed by the Protestant Church. 

Traditional African religions dominate less than 5 percent of the total population, and the number of Muslims in the country is extremely low. Despite the fact that religious marriages are very popular in the country, Congo allows polygamy. However, polygamous marriages are often common in customary cases. In customary marriages, the man and woman are mostly not seen as equals. The man is regarded as the head of the home and must make all family provisions, while the wife is supposed to maintain the home and obey her husband. 

More on the roles of husband and wife in Congo will be discussed later in this article. Before weddings are allowed to take place in the Catholic Church, there are often conditions that are laid down that must be followed by both spouses, such as being baptized, being of the opposite sex, being in good standing with the church, etc. Church marriages often lead to the second half of the wedding, where the reception and party take place.

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Marriage traditions in Congo

Dowry 

During the pre-wedding phase, the bride and the groom's family often meet together. Here, the groom states his intentions towards their daughter and requests her hand in marriage. If he is granted, he receives a dowry, which includes a list of items that must be provided prior to the marriage contract.

Liputa 

The liputa refers to a colorful attire that is worn during the wedding ceremony. This attire brings beauty and modernity to traditional weddings in the country, and it is usually made of flat pieces of the same material that are adorned with beautiful beads and embroidery.

Drink with the ancestors

This is an ancient tradition that is still practiced by some couples in rural communities. As a sign of respect, it is customary for the newlyweds to share a drink with their ancestors by pouring the drink on the ground and singing praises during the ceremony.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are illegal in the Congo. The country allows homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities, but it does not go beyond that. Same-sex couples are not allowed to head households or form unions, marriages, or other forms of partnerships. There are no protections from any form of discrimination against same-sex couples in the country.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is allowed in the Congo. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives without facing any legal consequence. However, the woman must give consent before the man proceeds to marry other wives. At the beginning of the marriage, the woman must agree that she is comfortable with her husband marrying additional wives. If she does not give her husband approval to marry more wives, he is not allowed to do so under the laws of the country.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Prior to the chosen date of marriage, couples must have a proper understanding of the laws of marriage in the Republic of Congo before it is allowed to take place. Laws such as the legal age for marriage must be strictly obeyed. The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years for women and 21 years for women. Persons who have not reached the minimum age for marriage are not allowed to contract marriage except in extreme cases such as pregnancy, and concerned parties must obtain parental permission before they can get married, or in the absence of parental consent, they should be able to obtain permission from a legal guardian or obtain a court's ruling.

Marriage between minors who are not eligible for marriage is a punishable offense under the law, and perpetrators are liable to pay a fine of at least 150,000 to 1,500,000 CFA. The law does not permit marriage between people that are related. Persons that are related by blood or share the same ancestral link, such as brothers and sisters, both adopted and biological, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc., are not allowed to marry one another. Marriages between people who are related by marriage are also prohibited. Under the law of marriage in the Republic of Congo, marriage must be conducted voluntarily and without the use of force, threats, or violence.

Intendant couples must be willing to enter into marriage on their own volition and not due to external influence. Before marriage can take place, both parties must give their express consent to marriage, which includes the husband and wife. Polygamy is also not permitted in the Republic of Congo; a man is not allowed to marry more than one wife at the same time, and a woman is not also allowed to practice polyandry. Same-sex activity is allowed in the Republic of Congo, but they are not permitted to contract marriage because, according to the law, it is against the natural order. 

Rights

There are certain rights that are available to married couples in the Republic of Congo that are not available to unmarried couples, such as the right to have a private and family life under the protection of the law of the state, the right to financial assistance from the government, etc. Couples have the right to perform their roles as legal guardians of the children in their home as well as exercise parental authority over the children, even if they were born out of wedlock. The husband and wife have the right to decide on the residence of the family as well as the number of children they wish to have. 

They have the right to raise them up according to their various religious or moral beliefs. Married men and women are granted equal rights to own, use, and dispose of property as they see fit. At the time of marriage, they are permitted to exercise their individual rights to choose which marital regime of property they wish to contract marriage under. They have the right to sign a prenuptial agreement, which decides the fate of their properties in the event of separation or divorce. On the topic of divorce, both the husband and wife have the same right to request a divorce, either based on mutual agreement or at the request of one of the couple. The testimony of both couples holds the same value in court, and the final ruling is based on the evidence that both couples present in court. 

At the dissolution of marriage, the right of the couple to custody and visitation is determined by the court, and the parent that best represents the interests of the children is granted custody. They are both granted the right to inheritance; the surviving spouse automatically inherits the right to own and use the property (both land and non-land assets) of the deceased spouse. They both have the right to work and participate in economic or political activities without any limitations. Couples can run for political offices without facing any restrictions or discrimination due to their marital status. Spouses have the right to freedom of movement and speech; they do not have to receive permission from one another to be able to travel or go outside the home for social engagements.

Costs

The cost of celebrating marriage in Congo is relatively affordable. A civil marriage costs between 65,000 and 78,000 CFA. This does not include the cost of the celebration room at the civil registry, and it is also applicable to foreigners who wish to get married in Congo. The cost of marriage for foreigners is more expensive compared to what nationals would spend on marriage. The cost of hotel accommodations in the Republic of Congo starts around $145 and increases depending on the location and reputation of the hotel. 

Couples often spend more on accommodation and venue rental than on any other item on the wedding budget. The cost of the couple's wedding attire is determined by whether it is custom-made, purchased, or rented. An average tailor-made wedding suit costs around 90,000 CFA, which is approximately $50; designer suits often cost more than the above cost. A tailor-made wedding dress costs around 200,000CFA depending on the style the bride picks. In essence, the total cost of the wedding celebration in Congo costs around 1,000,000 CFA–2,000,000 CFA, depending on the financial ability of the couple and their respective families.

Duties

Married men and women have duties to perform in the home, and these duties and responsibilities are regulated by the law. The husband and wife owe it to one another first and foremost to love, support, assist, and be there for one another. They must be able to provide for the welfare and wellbeing of the family according to their means. The husband and wife have a duty to ensure that the needs of the family are met, whether physical needs, emotional needs, or financial needs. 

The husband and wife are obligated to provide an environment that aids the growth and development of the children. The husband and wife's role are to provide basic necessities and education. While the duties are equally divided, there are still certain roles that are peculiar to the husband and wife, such as the primary care of the home and domestic housework. The wife is obligated to ensure that the home is well managed; she is in charge of managing the family's resources. The husband, on the other hand, is recognized as the provider for the family. However, these roles can be taken on interchangeably.

In Summary

The Congo is well-known for its rainforest and wildlife. The country is visited by tourists yearly, and it is possible for tourists to easily get married in Congo. This article has stated the documents that must be provided during the marriage registration.

The affidavit of marital status is important and it can be obtained from the concerned authorities in Congo or the embassy of Congo in a foreign country. This is to show that both spouses are single and not facing any marriage prohibitions at home or abroad. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in the Congo.

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