Everything you need to know about marriage in the Cook Islands

2 Sep 2023·20 min to read
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The Cook Islands are an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean that has a free association agreement with New Zealand. The country is popular for its snorkeling and scuba-diving sites. About 700 marriages are celebrated in the country annually by Cook Islanders and foreigners from other parts of the world. The Cook Islands are also a popular spot for destination weddings, and couples from countries abroad are able to tie the knot in a beautiful and memorable ceremony. Foreigners marrying in the country frequently have symbolic weddings. These weddings held no legal grounds, and they were mostly performed for the views, location, freedom, and beauty. Spouses also have the freedom to contract civil or religious marriages, as they are legally binding ceremonies. 

However, church marriages in the country will only hold legal grounds if such marriages have also been registered with the government. In the traditional Cook Islands culture, arranged marriages were a common practice. Families would arrange marriages for their children as a way to strengthen familial and community ties. In many cases, the bride and groom had little or no say in the matter, and the decision was made by their parents or other family members. Once they became of age, their parents would find suitable partners for them and marry them off. However, this has changed. Modernization and westernization have caused most of the people living in the country to abolish the act of arranging marriages. 

Couples are now getting married for love. In the Cook Islands, marriage is held to a high level of importance, and it usually takes some families several months before the whole marriage preparation gets completed. Some families have been known to spend a fortune on marriage. Previously, it was the groom and his family's responsibility to handle all financial responsibilities of the marriage, but those responsibilities are now largely shared by both families marrying. As you read on, you will find out more about the types of marriage in the Cook Islands, as well as their customs, traditions, and laws. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages 

To perform a civil marriage in the Cook Islands, there are certain procedures that must be followed by both spouses, as well as documents they will be required to submit. Civil marriages are performed by authorized registrars in the civil registry or city hall. This type of marriage is legally binding in the country and other parts of the world. Foreigners who wish to perform civil marriages in the Cook Islands are usually required to arrive at least three business days before their wedding day. This will give them enough time to meet the residency requirements and get the necessary documents ready. 

Spouses who are unable to make themselves available within the stipulated period will be required to make payment for a waiver fee. This is usually added to the total cost of the wedding package. According to the local customs of the Cook Islands, civil marriages are not performed on Sundays. Civil marriages are performed from 9:00am to 3:00pm from Monday to Friday in the country. 

However, weddings may be performed on Saturdays or during public holidays before sunrise or by 6:00 p.m. or above. These ceremonies often include the payment of some extra fees. Before the official marriage ceremony is performed, spouses will be required to obtain a marriage license, also known as the notice of intended marriage, from the Ministry of Justice. This must be done within three days of their arrival, and they must submit all the required paperwork proving their identity, marital status, and country of origin. There are certain marriage conditions that must be met by both partners before they are allowed to contract a civil marriage in the Cook Islands. These are stated below.

Marriage Conditions 

  • Both partners must not be related to each other through a direct link or affinity. The spouses getting married must not be blood or adoptive siblings, parents, or other close relatives.
  • The two spouses must be single, widowed, or divorced. Spouses who are still in a marriage, whether at home or abroad, are not allowed to contract another marriage unless the previous one is legally dissolved.
  • Both partners must be of different sexes. Same-sex partners are not permitted to perform civil marriages.
  • The spouses must be at least 21 years old. If a minor is to get married, they will be required to provide parental or guardian consent.
  • Both spouses must be physically present during the registration and ceremony to give consent and sign the necessary paperwork.
  • Spouses must arrive in the Cook Islands at least three days before the wedding.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or a valid passport
  • Government-issued birth certificates
  • Divorce or death certificates showing previous marriages were legally terminated
  • Certificate of single status
  • Two witnesses must be provided by the couple during the registration and ceremony.
  • Payment of all relevant fees by the couple

Religious marriages 

Religious marriages are popular in the Cook Islands. The predominant religion in the country is Christianity, with the Cook Islands Christian Church being the largest denomination, followed by the Catholic Church. To get married in the church, there are various ceremonial rites involved as well as conditions that must be met by both partners. During the church ceremony, there is usually an exchange of vows and rings, and it is customary for the pastor or priest to ask the congregation if there is anyone who does not wish for the partners to be joined together in holy matrimony before going ahead to pronounce them husband and wife. 

The sacrament of marriage is taken very seriously in the Catholic Church, and there are certain conditions and documents that must be submitted by both spouses. For Catholic church marriages, at least one of the parties getting married must be a Catholic. Both partners will be required to submit their baptismal certificates, and if one of the spouses is a member of another church other than the Catholic Church, they will be required to provide a dispensation. If the couple wishes to perform the marriage in a place other than the church, they may obtain permission to do so from the bishop. However, most officiating priests in the Cook Islands prefer to have the marriage inside the church.

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Marriage traditions in the Cook Islands

Exchange of Vows

Both partners exchange vows in Cook Islands Christian marriages. The vows are usually promises signifying the love, bond, and commitment both partners have for each other, and they are usually provided by the church. However, some couples may decide to opt for personalized vows that were drawn up by themselves. The exchange of vows is one of the most beautiful parts of the ceremony.

Ei Ceremony

The "Ei Ceremony" is an important pre-wedding event. During this ceremony, the bride and groom exchange traditional garlands made of flowers, leaves, and shells. This is intended to symbolize their commitment to each other and to their families.

Ava Ceremony 

Another important tradition is the "Ava ceremony," which takes place during the wedding reception. The couple will be seated in front of their families and friends, and they will be presented with a cup of "ava," a traditional Polynesian drink made from the root of the kava plant. The couple will then take turns drinking from the cup and passing it to their guests, symbolizing the sharing of their lives and their commitment to their community.

Same-sex marriages 

Homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities are illegal for males and legal for females in the Cook Islands. The practice of homosexual acts may result in up to 14 years of imprisonment; however, this law still has pending legislation. There is no recognition for same-sex unions, partnerships, or marriages. In 2013, employment discrimination based on sexual orientation was banned in the country; however, same-sex couples are still subjected to several legal challenges.

Polygamous marriages

Polygamy is not allowed in the Cook Islands. Polygamy was theoretically permitted in ancient times, though it was limited to exceptional and high-ranking men in society. However, this has changed over the years. All marriages in the country now have a monogamous nature, and spouses are not allowed to be married to more than one person at a time. If a spouse who is already married gets married again, such a marriage will have no legal grounds.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


Marriage in the Cook Islands is allowed between one man and one woman who have met all the requirements of the law to contract marriage. The laws of marriage in the Cook Islands are straightforward and understandable. The law states that marriage must be contracted voluntarily based on the terms agreed to by both parties. Their consent must be obtained before marriage is allowed to take place. If the consent of the couple or one of the couple is not obtained and the marriage takes place, the marriage would be considered void. The use of force and violence to contract marriage is against the law in the Cook Islands. Both parties must fulfill the age requirement before marriage can take place. The legal age for marriage in the Cook Islands is set at 21 years for both men and women. 

If both parties or one of the couple is under the designated age for marriage, the couple must obtain parental consent. He or she is required to submit written parental permission to the appropriate authorities before marriage can take place. In the absence of parental consent, a legal guardian can give consent to marriage on behalf of the couple. Marriage by proxy is not allowed in the Cook Islands. The groom and bride must be physically present to contract marriage. Under the laws of marriage in the Cook Islands, the groom and bride must not be already married. They must be single, as in unmarried, divorced, or widowed. Polygamous marriages are prohibited in the Cook Islands. Like many countries in the world, the groom and bride must not be related in any way. They must not share any common ancestral link. The groom is not allowed to marry anyone from his immediate or extended family. 

The same applies to the bride. The groom and bride must be in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage. If one of the couple is not mentally fit, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in the Cook Islands. However, they must be able to prove that there is no legal impediment to marriage. They must also be eligible for marriage in their home country; otherwise, they would not be allowed to contract marriage in the Cook Islands. The groom and bride are required to submit an application for their intended marriage to the appropriate authorities, after which a marriage license would be issued. Until the marriage license is issued, the husband and wife will not be able to contract marriage.


Marriage in the Cook Islands does not only come with rules to fulfill; it also comes with benefits for couples to enjoy. Cook Islands marriages are recognized across the world. Therefore, couples enjoy marriage rights even when they are not in the country. Marriage guarantees couples the right to privacy and a family life. They have the right to raise children according to their various religious and moral beliefs. They enjoy equal parental rights over the children. They both have the right to legal guardianship and the right to exercise parental control. 

Not only do couples have the right to raise children, they both have the right to enjoy tax benefits. As married couples, the husband and wife have the right to file joint taxes as one unit and enjoy the benefits that come with it. They both enjoy the right to work, receive equal payment for work, and enjoy fair treatment at the workplace. The husband and wife have the same right to initiate divorce. The divorce petition can be filed based on the couple's mutual agreement or on one of the couple's faults. Divorce can be granted on the following conditions: desertion, imprisonment for up to 2 years, domestic violence and abuse, etc. 

The husband and wife have equal property rights. They both have the right to own, use, and dispose of property as they wish. They also have the right to determine the marital property regime that will be in effect during the marriage. The husband and wife have the right to sign a prenuptial agreement at the time of marriage. Couples have the right to participate in political and socioeconomic activities outside the home. They both have the right to vote and be voted for, as well as make investments or obtain credits without any restrictions.


Getting married in the Cook Islands is always an expensive affair. Many families have to plan for months before the actual wedding celebration. A lot of couples tend to spend a fortune on their wedding ceremony. This is so because of the various marriage customs and traditions that must be celebrated on different occasions. It typically costs around NZ$100 to obtain an application for marriage in the Cook Islands, and around NZ$75 to obtain the marriage license.

Weddings typically cost between $4,000 and $6,000 in New Zealand. It could cost more depending on the families of the couple and their financial status as well. The preferences of the couple are also a determining factor in determining the total cost of a wedding in the Cook Islands. Foreigners who choose the Cook Islands as their perfect destination wedding location should expect to spend on transportation and accommodation for their guests.


Domestic responsibilities are divided equally between husband and wife based on their gender abilities. However, in more modern parts of the country, household duties are carried out interchangeably. In the Cook Islands, women are often in charge of all domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, maintaining the home, etc., while men are often saddled with the responsibility of carrying out heavy labor outside the home. Women also work outside the confines of the home, so they would also be involved in contributing to the welfare of the family.

Married men and women have a duty to treat each other with respect, love, and commitment to the marriage. Married men and women are in charge of managing family finances and ensuring that the resources of the home are properly utilized. The husband and wife have a duty to take care of the children in their marriage and make sure that all their needs are met. The educational and moral upbringing of the children should be the responsibility of the husband and wife.


The Cook Islands are a group of 15 islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, and they offer a beautiful and romantic setting for couples to get married. The islands include a variety of stunning natural landscapes, such as white sandy beaches, lush rainforests, and crystal-clear lagoons, making it a perfect location for a tropical wedding to many foreigners.

Many couples choose to get married on one of the more popular islands, such as Rarotonga or Aitutaki, and there are a variety of venues available for weddings, including beachside locations, gardens, resorts, and more. The Cook Islands also offer a variety of wedding package options, which can include things like wedding planning services, photography, and accommodation for the couple and their guests. We hope this article has helped you understand everything about marriage in the Cook Islands.