Everything you need to know about marriage in Tuvalu

9 Sep 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Tuvalu 01

Tuvalu is an independent island country and microstate in the Polynesian subregion of Oceania in the Pacific Ocean. The country is popular for its palm-fringed beaches, coral reefs, and WWII historical sites. Every year, hundreds of foreigners and native Tuvaluans get married in the country. Marriages are either civil, religious, or traditional in nature. Civil marriages are governed by principles under the civil code, while traditional and religious marriages are governed by the customary and religious laws of the couple, depending on their religious beliefs or ethnic groups in the country. In Tuvalu, marriages may only be solemnized between a man and a woman. 

Any other thing outside the box is deemed null and void. Marriage is an important occasion in the lives of Tuvaluans, and some spouses often look forward to the day of their marriage for several months or years. The union between a man and a woman in the country is mostly based on Christian principles and traditional customs. In Tuvalu, family is considered the most important social unit, and marriage is seen as a way to establish and strengthen family ties. In traditional Tuvaluan society, marriage was arranged by the parents of the couple with the goal of building alliances between families. Spouses had little to no say in who they got married to; however, urbanization has caused arranged marriages to cease to exist in the country. 

Today, marriage in Tuvalu is based on mutual consent, but it is still considered a serious commitment. Divorce is not common and is considered a last resort. The traditional view is that marriage is for life, and couples are expected to work through any difficulties that may arise.
Marriage makes up an important part of Tuvaluan culture and is celebrated with traditional customs such as gift-giving and sharing of resources, which are still practiced today. Weddings are usually a big event and are celebrated with family and friends. As you read on, you will find out more about the laws and rights governing marriages in Tuvalu. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages performed in Tuvalu are recognized and protected by law. This type of marriage holds international validity, and once a marriage certificate is obtained by the couple, they will be entitled to enjoy all the marriage benefits and rights provided by the government of Tuvalu. Legal marriages in Tuvalu are performed in the registry or city hall by the registrar general or an authorized government official appointed by the registrar general. The legal age for marriage in the country is 18 years for both spouses; however, spouses between the ages of 18 and 20 are allowed to get married in Tuvalu provided that they have parental and guardian consent.

Nevertheless, there are cases of child and early marriages in the country, and about 10 percent of marriages are performed by spouses who have not reached the age of 18. The marriage officer will be required to go through all submitted documents and carry out background checks if necessary, to ensure both partners are of legal age and have the legal capacity to contract a marriage in the country. If a minor spouse is unable to provide a parent or guardian for marriage consent, they may obtain such information from the registrar general of births, deaths, and marriages. Both partners are required to give notice of their intended marriage at least 21 days before the marriage will take place. This must be done at the civil registry in the district where the marriage will take place. 

There are residency requirements to get married in Tuvalu, and either of the couple must have resided in the country for at least 28 days. After all the necessary documents are submitted, the registrar will go through them and verify their status with the concerned authorities. If everything checks out, he or she will issue a marriage license with a 3-month validity period to the couple. The couple will be required to get married within this period or risk restarting their marriage application. All foreign documents must be translated by an accredited translator into either Tuvaluan or English, as these are the official languages in the country. The paperwork that must be provided by the bride and groom is stated below.

Documents Required 

  • National ID card or valid passport
  • Proof of address must be submitted by either of both spouses, showing they have resided in Tuvalu for at least 28 days.
  • Both partners must provide copies of their government-issued birth certificates.
  • The bride and groom must provide valid witnesses who have reached the age of 21.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of these documents must be provided by widowed or separated spouses, showing the legal termination of their previous marriage.

Religious marriages 

In Tuvalu, most marriages are performed in the church. Christianity is the largest denomination in the country, with about 97 percent of the total population. Church marriages are sacred ceremonies, and many families in Tuvalu only consider couples to be officially married after the church ceremony is performed. Marriages performed in accordance with the spouses' religious beliefs are also legally binding and recognized in Tuvalu. Church weddings in Tuvalu usually include various ceremonial rites, from the processional to the exchange of vows and rings. To begin wedding preparations, contact the priest or registrar of the church. 

Different churches have marriage conditions such as the provision of baptismal or confirmation certificates, and couples must provide all required documents before finally solemnizing their marriage in the church. Both partners will be required to schedule a suitable date for the marriage with their pastor or priest. It is common for the couple to invite other members of the congregation to their wedding and even the wedding reception, which is usually held immediately after the conclusion of the church service in the community hall or the bride's family house.

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Marriage traditions in Tuvalu

Te Fakatau 

In Tuvalu, "Te Fakatau" refers to the engagement ceremony that is held before the actual wedding takes place. The process of engagement begins with the groom's family visiting the family of his wife-to-be to ask for her hand in marriage. If her family agrees, the groom and his family will give a gift, such as a traditional mat or money, to the bride's family as a symbol of their commitment. The couple may also exchange rings or other gifts during this ceremony.

First Dance 

In Tuvaluan weddings, the first dance takes place during the wedding reception. It is often the first formal dance of the reception, and only after it is completed will the other members of the party join in dancing. The bride and groom take to the dance floor for their first dance as a married couple, and the song they choose for their first dance is often meaningful to them as a couple. It could be a song that was special to them when they were dating or a song that reminds them of their relationship.

Wedding Feast 

After the conclusion of the traditional marriage rites in Tuvalu, a wedding feast is usually organized by both families. Here, various foods and drinks are shared between both families and the invited guests. Some common foods served during the feast include fish and taro. Fish is a staple of the Tuvaluan diet, and it is often served at weddings. The fish may be cooked in a variety of ways, such as grilled, fried, or in a coconut milk stew. Taro is a root vegetable that is commonly grown in Tuvalu. It is often boiled or baked and served as a side dish.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in Tuvalu. Homosexuality and same-sex sexual activity are illegal for men and legal for women. The practice of same-sex marriage or homosexuality may result in up to 14 years' imprisonment in the country. In 2017, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was banned in Tuvalu. This serves as a form of employment protection in the country, but same-sex couples still continue to face various legal challenges.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is not allowed in Tuvalu. Under the civil codes of the country, marriage must be between a single man and a single woman. Traditionally, having multiple wives was the norm in ancient times; however, this changed over the years. Polygamous marriages are not recognized in the country, and since most people living in Tuvalu are Christians, cases of polygamous marriages are rare.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

In Tuvalu, the legal requirements for marriage are embedded in the Marriage Act of 1967. In order to be married in Tuvalu, couples must not be legally married to another person. The husband and wife must be single—either unmarried, divorced, or widowed. If either of the couple is divorced, he or she is required to provide a copy of the original divorce certificate to the appropriate authorities. In the case of widowhood, this concerned spouse is required to provide the marriage and death certificates of the former spouse. According to the act, both parties must be at least 18 years of age. The law states that the legal minimum age is 21 years. Couples who are underage but are around 18–20 years old may be allowed to contract marriage.

They must provide parental permission to be able to contract marriage in Tuvalu. In the absence of parental consent, a legal guardian is applicable. The marriage act in Tuvalu states that both parties must give their consent to the marriage. The groom and bride must give their willing and free consent to marriage without the use of force or violence. If one or both parties do not consent to marriage and the marriage is conducted, such a union would be considered void, and anyone who allows such a marriage would face legal consequences. The husband and wife are required to be mentally and medically fit to get married. If one of the couples does not meet this requirement, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. The couple is required to obtain a marriage license before marriage can take place. This grants them permission to get married in the country. 

The marriage must be registered with the government and a marriage certificate issued. A notice of the intended marriage must be published in the government gazette at least 21 days before the marriage takes place. The couple may also be required to complete a premarital counseling session. In addition to the legal requirements, traditional customs such as the payment of a bride price may also be practiced. Couples may also be required to present relevant documents such as birth certificates or proof of nationality. Same-sex marriage is not currently recognized in Tuvalu. The Marriage Act of 1967, which governs marriage in the country, only recognizes monogamous marriages between two consenting adults, which implies that polygamous marriages are not legal in Tuvalu.

Rights

The legal system of Tuvalu is based on English common law and local customs, and not only does it guide the act of marriage but it also states the rights and benefits of married couples in Tuvalu. Couples have the right to exercise parental rights over their children and be recognized as the legal guardians of their children. They both have equal property rights. At the time of marriage, the husband and wife have the right to choose the marital regime of property that will be in effect during the course of the marriage. 

They have the right to either choose a joint marital regime where all properties obtained before and during marriage become the joint property of both couples or to choose a separate marital regime where all properties obtained before and during marriage remain the individual property of each spouse. The husband and wife have equal inheritance rights. At the death of one of the spouses, the surviving spouse automatically has access to the land and non-land assets of the deceased spouse, except in situations where a will is in place. 

Legally married couples have the right to work and receive equal payment for work, as well as enjoy certain marriage benefits at the workplace. They both enjoy the right to initiate divorce at the breakdown of a marriage. A divorce can be granted based on the couple's mutual decision or on one of the couple's fault. After divorce has been agreed upon, the husband and wife have equal rights to receive custody of the children. The husband and wife have the right to live together in the same residence. They both have the right to make important decisions that affect the welfare of the family.

Costs

The cost of a wedding in Tuvalu can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, such as the number of guests, the location of the ceremony and reception, the type of services and goods that are included, and the financial ability of the couple. It costs an average of $316 per night to rent a hotel room in Tuvalu. 

This cost is not fixed and can easily increase or decrease depending on the reputation and location of the hotel. The average cost of getting married in Tuvalu is estimated to be around $1,000–$5,000. More wealthy families can decide to have more elaborate weddings. Couples should ensure that they have an effective budget and stick to it.

Duties

Couples' responsibilities in Tuvalu vary depending on their beliefs and values, as well as the society's expectations. The husband and wife must communicate effectively with one another. They should express their feelings and thoughts without using violence or force. They both have a duty to support each other emotionally, financially, and in other aspects of life. They are both obligated to care for the children from their marriage. They are both required to adequately provide for the needs of the children. The educational and moral upbringing of the children rests on the shoulders of the spouses. 

Couples have a duty to build and maintain trust in one another, as it is essential to a successful marriage. Couples have a duty to work together as a team to make decisions and achieve common goals. Couples should be able to make compromises in marriage. The couple has a duty to show love and affection towards one another on a regular basis. They have a duty to respect each other's beliefs and opinions and always protect one another as well as other family members. Married couples have a duty to prioritize time together and work towards building and strengthening the marriage.

Conclusion 

In Tuvalu, all marriages must be registered under the law for them to be legally binding. Like in most other countries in the world, spouses who wish to contract a civil marriage in the country will be required to submit certain documents and meet some criteria before completing the marriage registration.

Two people of the same sex are not allowed to cohabitate or get married in Tuvalu. The marriage rights and benefits available to opposite-sex couples are not enjoyed by same-sex couples. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Tuvalu.

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