Everything you need to know about marriage in the Marshall Islands

3 Sep 2023·20 min to read
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The Marshall Islands, officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands, is a country in Oceania. The country is an archipelago famous for its marine life and stunning scenery. Every year, native Marshallese and foreigners get married in the country. There are three major types of marriages in the Marshall Islands: ceremonial, common-law, and customary marriages. Ceremonial marriages are those conducted by a minister or other authorized official and recognized by the government. These marriages require a marriage license and are registered with the government. Ceremonial marriages in the Marshall Islands are quite similar to civil marriages because they involve formalities such as the meeting of certain criteria and the submission of some important documents before the marriage is conducted. 

They are, however, usually performed in spouses' religious places of worship. Common-law marriages in the Marshall Islands are those where the couple lives together for a certain period of time and presents themselves as married but does not have a formal ceremony. These marriages are also recognized by the government. Customary marriages are those conducted in accordance with traditional Marshallese customs and practices. These marriages are not recognized under the civil codes by the government, but may be recognized by the community and respected by the government. The rest of the article will give more details about the types of marriages in the Marshall Islands. 

There is a prevalent rate of child marriages in the country, and about 26 percent of all Marshallese marriages were entered by spouses before they reached the age of 18. 6 percent of those spouses were married before reaching the age of 15. Most of these marriages are either customary or traditional, and over the years, the government has tried to reduce the number of child marriages in the country. The Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registration (Amendment) Act raised the minimum legal age for marriage of male and female spouses to 18 years in 2016, with no exceptions allowed. Before then, female spouses were able to marry at the age of 16 with the provision of parental consent, but this has been banned. Continue reading to find out more about the marriage laws in the Marshall Islands.

Ceremonial marriages 

In the Marshall Islands, ceremonial marriages are performed by authorized officials recognized by the government. These include ministers, pastors, etc. Ceremonial marriages are generally regarded as religious marriages, and they usually involve a lot of traditional religious elements. These marriages require a marriage license, which must be obtained from the local government office by the spouses. At the office, both partners will be required to make their marriage intentions known to the marriage officer, who will inform them of the specific documents they are to submit. Some factors that may involve documents submitted include the country of origin and legal standing with the government. 

Both partners must be in good legal standing with the government of the Marshall Islands, and they must not be convicted of any crime that may prohibit them from getting married. Generally, couples will be required to provide proof of their identities and ages, such as a passport or birth certificate. Spouses who were previously married will be required to provide documents that show they are no longer married and have legally terminated their previous marriage or union.

After the ceremony is completed, the officiant will sign the marriage certificate and return it to the government office for registration. Once the marriage is registered, the couple will receive a certified copy of the certificate as proof of their marriage. Almost all Marshallese nationals are Christians, and most marriages are performed in the church. Before the actual wedding ceremony, different churches have a set of conditions that must be met by both parties before the marriage is allowed. Both partners may be required to take prenuptial counseling classes, which are often conducted by the priest or pastor.

Documents Required 

  • Joint marriage application form that has been filled out by both spouses
  • A valid means of identification must be submitted by the bride and groom.
  • Both partners must submit certified copies of their birth certificates.
  • Previously married partners must provide a divorce or death certificate for the legal termination of previous marriages.
  • Certified copies of the birth certificates of both spouses
  • Written parental consent for spouses below the age of 18

Customary marriages 

Customary marriages in the Marshall Islands are governed by traditional laws and customs rather than by the country's formal legal system. These marriages are recognized by the government but may not be recognized by other countries. Customary marriages in the Marshall Islands are usually arranged by the couple's families, with the bride's family typically giving a gift to the groom's family in exchange for the marriage. The couple may also go through a traditional wedding ceremony, which may include rituals such as the exchange of traditional clothing or the sharing of a meal. 

These types of marriages are quite popular in the country, especially in rural regions and communities. In the Marshall Islands, it is considered customary for a woman to move in with her husband's family after marriage and for the couple to have children together. Divorce is not common in customary marriages, but it is possible for a couple to separate and for the woman to return to her family.

Common-Law Marriages 

Common-law marriages are recognized and protected by law in the Marshall Islands. These types of marriages do not involve all the registration formalities or ceremonial rites involved in other types of marriages. Here, couples may declare themselves married after living together for a certain period of time. Most of the marriage entitlements and benefits in the Marshall Islands are available to spouses in common-law marriages. 

Generally, these marriages in the Marshall Islands have the same legal rights and protections as traditional marriages. For example, common-law couples have the right to inherit property from each other and to make medical decisions for each other. However, proving a common-law marriage can be challenging, especially if the couple has not lived together for a long time or if they have not held themselves out as a married couple.

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Marriage traditions in the Marshall Islands

Bride Price 

In traditional marriages in the Marshall Islands, the norm is for the groom's family to pay a bride price to the family of his wife-to-be. The bride price is usually paid as a form of appreciation to the bride's family for their help in raising his beautiful wife. The bride's family may also reciprocate and present some gift items to the groom and his family.

Poke and Roasted Pig

Food and drinks play an important role in Marshallese weddings, and they often include a variety of local seafood and traditional dishes such as poke, which is made from raw fish (usually tuna) that is marinated in lime juice and mixed with coconut milk, onions, and spices, as well as roasted pig served with vegetables.

Lavalava and Ludwig

These are traditional attires worn during traditional wedding ceremonies in the Marshall Islands. The traditional dress for men is the "lavalava," which is a piece of cloth worn around the waist. It's usually made of brightly colored cotton and decorated with intricate designs and patterns. Women's traditional dress is called the "ludwig," which is a brightly colored, full-length dress. The ludwig is typically made of a lightweight material and features intricate embroidery and beadwork.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are not allowed in the Marshall Islands. There is no recognition of marriages or unions between partners of the same sex. Homosexuality and same-sex sexual activity became legal in the Marshall Islands in 2005. Also, discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation became outlawed in 2019. Even though homosexuals now have some legal protections, same-sex couples are still not allowed to head households.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is prohibited in the Marshall Islands. In ancient times, polygamous marriages used to be prevalent in the country; however, when Christianity was introduced, missionaries banned the act of multiple people entering a marriage together. Ever since then, polygamous marriages have been outlawed. All marriages must be performed between a single man and a single woman.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


In the Marshall Islands, marriages are considered to be very important. Therefore, couples are required to observe the laws guiding the act of marriage in the country. In the Marshall Islands, only eligible partners are allowed to contract marriage. Anyone who has not yet attained the legal age for marriage is not allowed to get married. Both parties must have reached the age of 18 before contracting marriage. In the Marshall Islands, marriage must be between two parties of different sexes. This implies that same-sex marriages are not allowed in the Marshall Islands. Same-sex sexual activities have legal status, but they do not enjoy the benefits and protections available to heterosexual couples. 

According to the marriage laws in the Marshall Islands, polygamy is prohibited. The groom and bride are not allowed to marry more than one partner at the same time. They must be single at the time of marriage. They must be unmarried, widowed, or divorced. If either of the couple is widowed, he or she is required to provide a marriage certificate and the death certificate of the former spouse. In the case of divorce, the concerned spouse is required to submit a copy of the original certificate of divorce. The groom and bride must contract marriage based on their free will. The use of force to contract marriage is against the law in the Marshall Islands. Any marriage conducted without the consent of one of the couple or without the consent of both of them is considered void. The groom and bride must be in a sound mental and medical state. 

If one or both couples are not mentally fit or medically compatible, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. Both parties must be able to provide valid identification documents, such as a national identity card or a birth certificate. Marriage must be conducted in the presence of at least two witnesses chosen by the couple. The witnesses must be at least 18 years old, and they are required to have valid documentation. This applies to foreign couples who wish to be married in the Marshall Islands. Non-citizens who wish to be married in the Marshall Islands must be eligible for marriage in their home country; otherwise, they may not be allowed to marry in the Marshall Islands. There must not be any legal impediment to marriage. The couple must be able to prove their current marital status to the authorities.


 Marriage provides certain benefits and protections that are not available to unmarried couples in the Marshall Islands. Once marriage is contracted, the husband and wife have the right to start a family life. They enjoy benefits and assistance from the government in providing for and protecting the family. The husband and wife have equal parental rights over the children of their marriage. They have the right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children and to exercise parental authority when necessary. 

The husband and wife have the right to make decisions for the children until they are old enough to make them on their own. Married men and women in the Marshall Islands have equal next-of-kinship rights. In an emergency, the husband and wife have the authority to make important medical decisions for one another. Marriage grants couples access to certain work benefits that are only available to married couples. The husband and wife have the same right to receive fair treatment at their place of work. The husband and wife have the right to inherit. In the event of the death of one of the spouses, the surviving spouse has the right to inherit land and non-land assets. 

They both have the right to own property and make use of it without having to seek permission from one another. They have the right to decide on the marital regime of property, which would determine how property is distributed during marriage. The husband and wife have the right to sign a prenuptial agreement at the time of marriage. Spouses have the right to move around freely and express their thoughts and feelings without hesitation. When a marriage fails, both the husband and wife have the right to divorce.


Getting married in the Marshall Islands comes with a price. It is estimated to cost around $5,000–$10,000 or more to host a wedding in the country. Renting a wedding hall alone costs around $1,900. The wedding attire, choice of food and cuisines at the ceremony, transportation, the financial ability of the couple, etc. determine the total cost of marriage in the Marshall Islands. Couples who wish to have an elaborate wedding ceremony should be prepared to spend much more than couples who wish to have a simple ceremony. 

It costs from as little as $60 per night to as much as $314 per night to rent a hotel room in the Marshall Islands. For food and drinks, couples should expect to spend an average of around $40 per person. It is appropriate to have an effective working budget to ensure that the money spent on the wedding celebration goes to the right things.


From the moment the marriage is formed until it is dissolved, the husband and wife have separate responsibilities in the home. The delegation of duties in a typical family in the Marshall Islands is based on gender roles. However, in the more advanced parts, the duties are shared equally. The husband and wife are obligated to provide for the basic needs of the family. They are both saddled with the responsibility to jointly contribute so that the needs of the family can be met. The husband and wife have a duty to protect the family from any form of harm that might come to them. 

Couples should ensure that they fulfill the needs of the children according to their means. The couple is both responsible for one another, meaning they have to live in the same matrimonial home together, love one another, be committed to the marriage, respect each other's beliefs, etc. The husband and wife are responsible for deciding the moral and religious inclinations of the family. Couples' obligations to their children continue even after divorce is granted. They have a duty to ensure that the resources of the home are properly managed and secured.

Final Thoughts 

The Marshall Islands is dominated by Christians, and almost all marriages performed in the country are held in the church. The Marshall Islands is one of the few countries in the world where civil marriages are generally not performed. Customary laws are recognized by the constitution under customary law, and such marriages require confirmation by the high court of the country.

Marriage customs and traditions in the Marshall Islands are heavily influenced by the country's traditional customs and beliefs. In the Marshall Islands, marriage is considered to be a very important social and cultural event and is usually arranged by the couple's families. On the wedding day, the bride and groom often wear brightly colored attire that makes them stand out from the crowd. We hope this article has helped you fully understand everything you need to know about marriage in the Marshall Islands.