Everything you need to know about marriage in Yemen

26 May 2023·20 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in Yemen 01

Yemen is a Western Asian country popularly known for its rich biodiversity. The predominant religion in the country is Islam, and all the legislation in the country is based on the principles of Islamic law (Sharia). There are two major types of marriages celebrated in Yemen, namely civil and religious marriages; religious marriages are the most common. Some of the laws guiding the act of marriage in the country are quite different from those of other countries in Asia and the rest of the world. There is no legal minimum age for marriage in Yemen. This implies that male and female spouses are allowed to get married at any age without any form of restriction or consent. 

Child marriage has been a crucial topic of discussion in the country because the marriage age is perceived as a direct act of human rights violation by other countries in the world. Boys and girls are married off at early stages, and according to statistics, 1.4 million girls were married in the country before reaching the age of 15 and over 4 million girls before the age of 18. Arranged marriages are still very common in the country, and girls are mostly the victims of these types of marriages. There is a huge gender disparity in Yemen, and women and men do not have equal rights. 

Women are generally supposed to be submissive to their husbands. The marriage traditions practiced in the country are generally based on Islamic marriage traditions. Different tribes have their own customs when it comes to marriage; however, since most of them are Muslims, the Islamic traditions and principles often apply to the union. Continue reading to find out more about Islamic marriages.

Civil marriages 

A civil marriage in Yemen is conducted at the civil registry, or office of civil affairs, by a registrar. Civil marriages are legally binding in Yemen, and both foreign and Yemeni spouses are allowed to conduct this type of marriage. Most times, the registry located in the same municipality or district where either one or both of the couples live must be used. In most other countries in the world, the minimum marriage age is 18 years, and those below this age must obtain parental consent. In Yemen, the reverse is the case. The laws of the country have provided no age for marriage in civil, religious, or other forms of marriage. Child marriages are very common in Yemen, and in most rural areas, girls who just hit puberty are married off as brides.

Before a foreign spouse is allowed to marry in the country, they must obtain permission from the minister of interior. Generally, under Sharia law, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman; a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man unless the male spouse has fully agreed. Invest in Islam. Even though this is the law, there are modifications in some areas of the country where Muslim women are allowed to marry non-Muslim men, provided that they are either Jewish or Christian. Marriages are supposed to be free unions between spouses, but since arranged marriages are so popular in Yemen, there are several cases where a bride is married off to a groom and his family, with whom she may not be in total agreement. 

Before a marriage is legalized in a country, there are certain documents that must be submitted by both spouses. Also, documents that are sent from concerned authorities to a foreign country or its embassy must be translated into Arabic, the official language of Yemen. A foreign spouse getting married may also be required to provide an accredited interpreter during the course of the ceremony if they do not speak Arabic. All documents must be notarized and apostille-certified.

Documents Required 

  • Both partners are required to provide a valid means of identification, such as a national ID or valid passport.
  • Proof of address This applies to foreign spouses residing in the country. Both partners must be able to provide evidence that they have been living in Yemen for the required amount of time.
  • Divorce or death certificate This is a document that will show the lawful termination or dissolution of the marriage of a previous spouse who ended the marriage as a result of separation or the death of a former spouse.
  • Deed poll. This applies to spouses who changed their names in the past. The proof of this is important.
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage This mainly applies to foreign spouses, and they must provide evidence that they hold single status in their home country and Yemen.
  • The spouses are required to pay all the fees incurred during the marriage registration.

Religious marriages 

Religious marriages are recognized and protected under the laws of the country. Religious marriages are generally bound by the principles of Sharia law, and they are performed by a clergyman in the place of worship of both or either of the spouses. Yemen is a Muslim state, with over 99% of the total population being of the Islamic faith. Sunni Muslims account for 65% of the Muslim population, with the remainder being Zaydi Shia. 

The rest of the small population of Yemen that is not Muslim is made up of Hindus, Christians, and various other religious beliefs. Muslim marriages are often conducted the way a typical Islamic marriage is. Muslim marriages usually involve a contract that must be signed by the bride and groom as well as the two witnesses they must have provided. The marriage contract often includes all the details about the terms and responsibilities of the spouses in the union. Most times, the Nikah ceremony is held at the bride’s family’s house.

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Marriage traditions in Yemen


The payment of a bride price or dowry often begins most of the marriage ceremonies in Yemen. Here, the bride's family presents a list of items that must be provided by the groom and his family before the spouses are allowed to marry. Marriage is a union between both families too, and they usually come to an agreement or negotiate on the dowry that can be paid by the groom. After payment, the marriage preparations, including a set date, proceed.

Multiple days

The tradition in Yemeni marriages is for the ceremony to last several days. In fact, marriage ceremonies can last up to a week or more. In most communities, men are supposed to organize parties for three days, while women are supposed to organize parties for a week. During the parties, various marriage rituals are performed, and traditional attire known as the Thoob is worn by the men. There is often a lot of singing and dancing at the ceremonies.


This refers to a unique marriage tradition in Yemen. Here, a young girl in the locality or village of the spouses is named after the bride, and the groom is expected to give a certain amount of money to her, known as the Assumiah. The groom is also required to pay more money to the bride's family on the actual day of the wedding before getting the opportunity to remove her veil.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Yemen. According to Sharia law, homosexuals hold no legal status, and those who practice same-sex sexual activity, unions, or marriages are bound to face severe legal consequences. In Yemen, the penalty for this type of marriage for a homosexual person is 100 lashes of a whip as well as imprisonment for up to a year. However, married spouses who engage in homosexual activities in Yemen face the death penalty by being stoned to death. The marriage laws in Yemen are extremely strict and unacceptable in most countries.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is legal in Yemen. A man is allowed to marry up to four wives, provided that he treats them equally and fairly. Even though polygamy is legally accepted in the country, it is not as popular as it used to be. One reason why marriage between multiple people are declining is because of the cost of maintaining several wives in a family.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


The laws of marriage in Yemen are regulated by the civil code, which is founded on Islamic laws (Sharia). The official religion of the country is Islam, and about 99% of the population are Muslims. The laws of marriage in Yemen do not support the union between couples of the same sex; homosexual activity is also illegal. The law states that unmarried same-sex couples are liable to face punishments of severe whipping and at least 1 year of imprisonment, while married same-sex couples are met with more severe punishments; they would be tied to a tree and stoned to death. Many homosexuals have met their deaths through this system of punishment. Both civil marriages and religious marriages have legal value; couples can decide to contract whichever form of marriage they want; however, the marriage must be conducted by an authorized person.

The law does not stipulate the minimum legal age for marriage in the country, and this gives prevalence to the practice of child marriage. Children as young as six years old are married off to older men to relieve the burden of caring for a female child or children. Girls are majorly affected by this law, while boys are still allowed to mature before entering into marriage. Cohabitation is not allowed in the country; couples who wish to be recognized as partners but are not in a formal marriage contract are not allowed to do so. Before a Yemeni woman can contract marriage, she has to have the permission of her male legal guardian, also known as a "wali," or the permission of a court judge in the absence of her legal guardian. 

Consent from the bride is often not obtained as the bride's presence is not needed for a marriage to be agreed upon. Many brides are married off without their consent, and they are often forced to accept the marriage. Despite the fact that brides are not required to give consent to marriage, the law considers forced marriages illegal, and any marriage contracted with the use of force or coercion is declared void. Polygamy is permitted under the law of the country; according to Islamic laws, a Muslim man is allowed to marry more than one wife provided he has informed his previous wives, he proves to the court that he can handle each of them equally, and he has the financial means to do so. 

Foreign men who wish to enter into marriage with Yemeni women have to receive authorization from the ministry of interior before they can get married, and a foreign woman who wishes to enter into marriage with a Yemen man must submit proof to the ministry of interior that she is of good behavior and character before the marriage can take place. Persons who wish to contract marriage must submit all necessary requirements, which must be verified. Foreign documents must be translated by an authorized translator and apostilled before marriage can be deemed legally binding.


Men and women are not regarded as equals in Yemen, and this also affects the rights of married couples in the country. While men have the right to marry non-Muslim women, women are restricted from exercising this right; however, some parts of the law state that women can marry Jewish or Christian men provided they meet all requirements. Men are allowed to practice polygamy; they can marry up to four wives provided they have the means to, whereas the concept of polyandry is taboo in Yemen. 

Wives are frequently viewed as subordinate to their husbands; as a result, the husband and wife have unequal rights to file for and finalize divorce. The husband has the unilateral right and authority to divorce his wife without any justification, also known as talaq. The man is allowed to divorce his wife without having to go through any strenuous process, whereas the wife only has the right to file for divorce under special circumstances such as desertion, imprisonment, etc. All the man needs to do is utter "I divorce you" three times, and the divorce stands even in the absence of his wife. When it comes to child custody after divorce, the woman has almost no rights to the children; she is only allowed to exercise their rights under special circumstances when there is a young child involved. 

The right to be seen as the legal guardian of the children is given to the husband; he alone is permitted to exercise parental authority. According to the Sharia laws on inheritance, the husband can exercise his right to inheritance freely without any restrictions, while the wife is only allowed to inherit property under certain circumstances. Wives do not have the right to confer their nationality on their children if they are born outside the country or if she marries a foreigner; she is only allowed to do so when her husband dies. This is not the case for men. If a Yemeni man marries a foreigner, the children automatically become Yemeni citizens. Married women do not have the right to work without receiving permission from their husbands; they have to receive authorization from their husbands to exercise their movement rights.


An average wedding in Yemen is quite expensive considering the economic status of the country, where people earn less than $3 daily. The payment of the bride price to the bride's family is a long-standing tradition. The cost of an average bride is normally around $2,500–$40,000, after which he is still expected to bear the wedding expenses. The cost of renting a wedding venue, the music, flowers, decorations, and food and drinks all add up to the expensive wedding budget the husband is required to shoulder. 

An average wedding budget in Yemen is estimated at $100,000, and this cost excludes the payment of the dowry. These celebrations sometimes last up to three days, which often causes the cost of marriages to weigh down on the groom. The wedding celebrations are done separately; the bride, her friends, and all female relatives have their celebration at home or at a special venue, while the groom, his friends, and all male relatives have their celebration at a separate venue as well. Many couples meet for the first time on their wedding nights.


As stated earlier, the rights of husband and wife in the home are unequal; the same applies to the duties and responsibilities of the couple in the home. The wife is obligated to obey her husband at all times without questioning his decisions. She is expected to respect, honor, and make herself available to him at all times. She is expected to carry out all matrimonial duties religiously; she must not be found wanting or bring disrespect to the family name. She is obligated to live with her husband, either at his residence or a family house. 

The husband, on the other hand, has a duty to provide maintenance for his wife and children; he is responsible for providing for all the material needs of the family. They both have a duty to provide care, education, and moral upbringing for the children. The wife has a duty never to deny her husband access to her body, even if she is not staying with him.

Final Thoughts  

Yemen is one of the countries with the strictest marriage laws in the world. The Asian country does not have a minimum legal marriage age, thereby allowing marriages to be performed at any age. Marriages in the country have a lot of traditions and customs attached to them, and they are not just unions between spouses; they also unite both families.

The legislation in Yemen is in accordance with the principles of Sharia law. Men are able to marry multiple wives, and generally, both spouses are not equal. Urbanization and the high cost of living have caused polygamous marriages to decrease in the country; however, child marriages are still being practiced to this day. We hope this article has helped you fully understand everything you need to know about marriage in Yemen.