Everything you need to know about marriage in Tonga

31 Aug 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Tonga 01

Thousands of marriages are registered every year in Tonga by native Tongans and foreigners. Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian country and archipelago famous for its white beaches, tropical rainforests, and coral reefs. Marriages in the country are classified as civil, religious, customary, or symbolic. The first three are legally binding in the country; however, symbolic marriages are non-legal marriages. The types of procedures involved in civil and religious marriages in the country are quite different. Symbolic marriages are mostly performed by foreigners who wish to celebrate their marriage in any of the beautiful locations in the country. 

Civil marriages are mostly performed by couples in urban areas, and they usually involve due processes that must be followed by both spouses before they are able to obtain a marriage license or certificate. Traditional marriages in the country are usually performed in accordance with the customs of the ethnic groups or communities of the spouses. These types of marriages usually involve a lot of preparation and marriage rituals performed by the couple, members of their family, and other friends. Family is an important aspect of Tongan culture. In traditional Tongan society, extended families live together in large households, with several generations often living under one roof. 

The eldest male in the household is the head of the family and makes decisions on behalf of the family. The eldest female is the matriarch and is responsible for the care and well-being of the family. The concept of "fahu" (extended family) is also an important aspect of Tongan culture, where all members of an extended family are considered to be related and are expected to help and support one another. The families on both sides usually play active roles in ensuring that the marriage is everything they dreamed it would be for their children. Continue reading to find out more about the marriage customs and traditions in Tonga.

Civil marriages 

In Tonga, civil marriages are performed by state-authorized registrars in the civil registry. Civil marriages are performed in a formal setting and do not involve a large number of guests like other types of marriages performed in the country. Couples will be required to obtain a marriage license from the Supreme Court registry in Tonga; however, there are certain documents that must be submitted before they will be able to obtain such a license. The legal age for marriage in Tonga is 18 years for both male and female spouses, but with the provision of parental or guardian consent, a spouse between the ages of 15 and 18 may be allowed to marry. About 6 percent of all marriages are entered by spouses who have not reached the age of 18; however, most of these marriages are traditional. 

In a civil marriage, the registrar will not agree to register the marriage of a minor who does not have proof of authorization from their parents or other concerned authorities. In Tonga, there are residency requirements for foreigners who wish to get married. A foreign spouse must have resided in the country for at least one month before the intended wedding date. The registries may request documents to support this claim. These may include proof of residence, proof of arrival in the country, or a copy of the immigration card of such a spouse. Foreign spouses may be subjected to the submission of more documents and longer waiting periods. This is because there must be paperwork that shows they are not prohibited from getting married by their country, which must be equally verified. 

To verify the documents submitted, the registrar may reach out to concerned authorities in the home country of the foreign spouse to confirm if all the information submitted is true. The process of processing the marriage license in Tonga takes about 2 to 3 days. After obtaining the marriage license, the couple must have the marriage solemnized by a registered minister or marriage officer within 18 days of the license being issued. The official languages in Tonga are Tongan and English. All documents obtained from foreign countries must be translated by an accredited translator into either of these languages before their final submission. An apostille may be obtained for the marriage certificate from the ministry of foreign affairs in Tonga. 

This will ensure that the home country of such a spouse recognizes the marriage performed in Tonga. Both partners will be required to provide valid witnesses who are at least 18 years old. The witnesses provided will also be required to submit their valid means of identification and any supporting documents required. Civil marriages in the country usually occur during the weekdays and last about 20 to 30 minutes. The whole process of getting married, from the application to the final issuance of a marriage certificate, takes less than two months. The documents both spouses must submit are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • Joint application letter from the couple
  • A valid means of identification (national ID or valid passport) must be provided by the couple and their witnesses.
  • Two witnesses must be present during the marriage registration.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of these documents must be provided by previously married spouses who are now separated or widowed.
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage This must be submitted by a foreign spouse to show they are permitted under the law to conduct a marriage in Tonga.
  • Certification must be submitted by both partners. A copy of their birth certificates with their names as they are currently addressed

Religious marriages 

The predominant religion in Tonga is Christianity. The Methodists are Tonga's largest church denomination, and marriages performed by registered ministers of religion are legally recognized and ported. Church weddings in the country are held in high regard. The ceremony is held in church and is conducted by a priest or pastor. It typically includes traditional elements such as hymns, prayers, Bible readings, and a sermon. The bride and groom will usually arrive at the church separately, accompanied by their respective families and friends. The bride will wear a white wedding dress and will be escorted down the aisle by her father. 

The groom usually wears formal attire, such as a suit or tuxedo. During the ceremony, the couple will exchange vows and rings and be pronounced husband and wife by the minister or pastor. The ceremony will also include prayers and blessings for the couple and a final hymn or song. After the ceremony, the couple is then congratulated by their guests and takes photographs outside the church.

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Marriage traditions in Tonga

Kalo Katoa

In Tonga, the Kalo Katoa refers to the traditional engagement ceremony that is performed before the actual marriage. Here, the groom's family visits the bride's family to officially ask for her hand in marriage.

Kalo Fefine

In a traditional Tongan marriage, the Kalo Fefine refers to the traditional bride price, which is paid by the groom's family in exchange for the bride's hand in marriage. This is done after the bride's family accepts the marriage proposal.

Fakakau 

After all the wedding ceremonies and marriage rituals are concluded, the Fakakau is performed. It refers to the vacation honeymoon, where the newlyweds will get time to themselves to enjoy their new marriage in happiness and wealth.

Same-sex marriages 

In Tonga, homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities are illegal for men; however, they are legal for women. Members of the LGBT community face legal challenges and discrimination that non-LGBT members do not. If a man is caught performing homosexual acts in the country, it may result in up to 10 years of imprisonment. Same-sex couples are not entitled to enjoy any of the marriage benefits, such as adoption, in Tonga.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is allowed in Tonga. A man is allowed to marry more than one wife legally. However, male spouses will be required to declare the form of marriage they are going into before the first marriage is performed. If a monogamous marriage is decided upon, a spouse will not be able to marry multiple wives later on. Polygamous marriages are very common in rural areas of the country.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

In Tonga, marriage is believed to be one of the most important events of one's life. Therefore, it should be treated as sacred and must be respected. The act of marriage in Tonga is governed by the Marriage Act of 2010. Under this law, anyone who wishes to be married must be eligible for marriage. He or she must meet all the requirements of the law before marriage can take place. In Tonga, both monogamous and polygamous marriages are allowed events in one's life. Therefore, it should be treated as sacred and must be respected. The act of marriage in Tonga is governed by the Marriage Act of 2010. Under this law, anyone who wishes to be married must be eligible for marriage. He or she must meet all the requirements of the law before marriage can take place. In Tonga, both monogamous and polygamous marriages are allowed. 

At the time of marriage, the couple has to decide which form of marriage they wish to contract. Anyone who chooses a monogamous marriage is not allowed to contract a polygamous marriage later unless he divorces his current wife and contracts a new polygamous marriage agreement. Under the law, the legal age for marriage is set at 18 years for both men and women. However, exceptions are made for minors. A girl aged 14 and a boy aged 16 are allowed to contract marriage, but there must be written parental consent to the marriage. If the parents are incapacitated or unavailable to give consent, a legal guardian is permitted to give consent to the marriage. 

The groom and bride must be willing to consent to marriage on their own terms. The husband and wife should not be put under any form of duress, nor should there be the use of force or threats while contracting marriage. Both parties must ensure that their notice of intent to marry is submitted to the marriage registry at least 21 days before the ceremony. After the notice is submitted, a marriage license is issued, and couples are granted permission to get married in Tonga. The law also states that the marriage must be conducted by an authorized marriage officer. After the ceremony, the couple is required to register their marriage with the government. If any of the couples is divorced, he or she is required to submit a copy of the original divorce certificate to the appropriate authorities. 

A widow or widower is required to provide the marriage certificate of the previous marriage as well as the death certificate of the deceased spouse. This is to ensure that anyone contracting a monogamous marriage is not committing the offense of bigamy. Marriage between two people who are closely related is prohibited in Tonga. The groom and bride cannot marry anyone in their immediate family or anyone they share a common ancestral link with. There are no provisions under the law for same-sex couples in Tonga. The law does not recognize same-sex marriages, and practicing them comes with legal consequences.

Rights

In Tonga, the Constitution recognizes all men as equals. Therefore, in marriage, both men and women are considered equal. Couples have personal rights and joint rights in marriage. Some of the personal rights of couples are the right to life, the right to fair treatment, the right to security and protection, the right to privacy, etc. These rights are naturally conferred on couples even before marriage. During their marriage, the husband and wife share certain rights. The right to file joint taxes as a household and enjoy tax benefits is one of the joint rights of couples. They both have the right to own property, either individually or jointly. 

It all depends on the marital regime of property decided at the time of marriage. If a joint regime is chosen, all the property obtained before and during marriage, excluding intimate belongings, belongs to the husband and wife. On the other hand, if a separate regime is chosen, the property of the couple obtained before and during marriage is individually owned. The husband and wife have the same right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children. They both have the right to exercise parental authority and make decisions for the children until they are able to do so on their own. 

The husband and wife have the same right to work and be paid equally for their efforts. Even after marriage, the couple has the right to pursue further academic and career ambitions without any limitations. At the demise of the spouses, the husband as well as the wife have the same right to inheritance. The surviving spouse automatically gets all assets belonging to the deceased spouse. They have equal rights to initiate and finalize divorce. The divorce can be granted on mutual grounds or based on the fault of one of the spouses.

Costs

Marriage in Tonga can be expensive or inexpensive; it all depends on the type of ceremony chosen by the couple. Many couples who choose to have a simple ceremony at the civil registry or at their chosen location will not spend too much on the ceremony. The cost of a marriage license is $345. The ceremony and wedding officiant fees should not exceed TOP$35. However, if the couple decides to have a more elaborate wedding, such as the traditional Tongan wedding ceremony, they should expect to spend more. 

The average cost of the ceremony and the honeymoon experience is estimated to be around $20,000, It could be less, and it can easily increase as well. The traditional wedding attire costs around $300 or more to rent. It may be more expensive to sew it. In essence, couples should plan properly for the ceremony to avoid any disappointments.

Duties

Spouses have joint duties and gender-specific duties to carry out in the home. While there is an equal distribution of duties in the home, married men and women are required to carry out their various duties to ensure the proper functionality of the family as a whole. In Tonga, the duties and responsibilities of couples are embedded in the Constitution. The husband and wife have a duty to ensure that the needs of the family are properly catered to. Basic amenities such as food, clothing, and shelter must be provided by the couple. 

The husband and wife must be responsible for their own well-being as well as the well-being of their children from previous marriages. They must look out for one another, be committed to the marriage, love one another, and respect each other's beliefs and opinions. Both husband and wife have a duty to communicate. The educational and moral welfare of the children should be taken care of by the couple. There must be the provision of a safe and happy environment for the children to grow. In a bid to meet the needs of the family, the couple should not go beyond their means and end up putting the family in trouble.

Final Thoughts

Tonga has a rich cultural heritage, and many of the islands are home to historic sites and landmarks where wedding ceremonies may take place. There are different beautiful locations available to both native Tongans and foreigners, ranging from resorts to beaches, scenic landscapes, and more.

Marriage is considered a beautiful and important event in Tonga and is often celebrated with a grand ceremony and a large gathering of family and friends. It is viewed as a rite of passage and is considered a significant step in building a family and community. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Tonga.

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