Tuvalu - Age of Consent

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The Office of the People’s Lawyer

Legal Literacy For Women - Know Your Rights



MARRIAGE



What is Marriage?
How many types of legal marriage are there?
How does this affect me?
Can I be forced to marry?
How old must I be to get married?
What if I want to get married but my parents will not give their consent?
What if someone else objects to the marriage?
Who can I marry?
How do I get legally married?
Do I have to wait for the certificate?
Getting married in a church
Getting married in a civil office
Do I have to take my husband’s surname when I marry?
What if my intended husband is not living in Tuvalu?
The People’s Lawyer




What is Marriage?

In Tuvalu marriage is the voluntary union (joining) of one man to one woman.

You can only have one legal marriage to one other person of the opposite sex at a time. This means that if a man has two
wives at the same time the second marriage is illegal.

To try and have a second legal marriage without ending the first is a crime called ‘bigamy’.

If you agree to be a second wife you should know that your marriage is not recognised by the law.

If you are a second wife who has not had a legal marriage, you have no legal rights to apply for a divorce, maintenance for
yourself, or a share of martrimonial property.



How many types of legal marriage are there?

There are two types of marriage in Tuvalu - civil and church (religious) marriages.

There is no legal difference between a church and a civil marriage, what matters is that the person who marries you is registered
to do so.

You can be legally married by any of these people:

the Registrar General, or

any person appointed as a registrar by the Registrar General, or

any Minister of Religion who is registered by the Registrar General, or

any lay preacher who is appointed by the Registrar General.

Nearly all ministers of established religions are registered, but you should ask before you marry whether the person who will be
marrying you is registered.

If you are married by a person who is not registered then you are not legally married.



How does this affect me?

If you are a wife within a marriage that is not recognised by the law, the law calls you a de facto wife (a wife in fact as
opposed to a wife in law).

This is important because a legally married wife is in a much better position that a defacto wife.

As the law only recognises legal marriages, if you separate from your de facto husband then you and possibly your children
will be denied what protection the law has to offer to legally married women.

If you are not legally married you won’t be able to get a legally recognised divorce, maintenance for yourself, or any other
order from the Court which is dependent upon there being a legally recognised marriage.



Can I be forced to marry?

No you cannot. The law says that no-one can be forced to marry. Both you and your husband must marry because you want
to, of your own free choice, and not because you are being threatened or pressured by anybody.

If either you or the man is being forced against your will into the marriage it will not be a legal marriage.

The marriage can be declared a Nullity (of no legal effect). Nullity is different from getting a divorce.

When a marriage is declared a Nullity it is like it never happened, you were never really married. If this happens you will not be
able to claim maintenance for yourself.

The Court can also declare your marriage a nullity if at the time you were married:

either you or your husband were too young to marry,
one of you was married to someone else already,
you were too closely related to one another, or
the marriage was not carried out the way the Marriage Act says it should be.



How old must I be to get married?

You must be at least 16 years old.

If you are under 21 years old then you must get the written consent (permission) of your father.

If your father is dead, of unsound mind, or away from the island then you can get the written consent from your mother.

If both your mother and father are dead, of unsound mind, or away from the island, then whoever is looking after you (your
guardian) must consent to the marriage.

If there is no-one who can give their consent to your marriage, then the Registrar General of births, deaths and marriages can
allow you to marry.

If you want to marry without your parents’ (or guardians’) consent, you have to be over 21 years of age.

This is because once you reach 21 years old you are an adult in the eyes of the law and legally responsible for your own
actions.



What if I want to get married but my parents will not give their consent?

If you are under 21 years old and your parents or guardian will not consent to your marriage then you can go to the Registrar
General of births, deaths and marriages and ask him to allow your marriage.

Even if your parents or guardian say no, the Registrar General can still allow your marriage to take place.

The Registrar General has the power to do away with the need for consent to your marriage, if he is satisfied that it is in your
best interests to get married, and that your parents’ or guardian’s refusal to give their consent was unreasonable.

Just because your parents do not like the person you want to marry, or want you to marry someone else, is not a good enough
reason for them refusing to consent to your marriage.



What if someone else objects to the marriage?

If there is anyone who thinks that your marriage should not go ahead, that person has a chance to make an objection and say
why they do not think you should marry.

This is very rare but if someone does object they must bring proof of the things which they are saying would stop you from
marrying.

A person may object because they believe you:

are legally too young to marry; or

have been forced to marry against your will; or

are too closely related to the person you wish to marry.

Who can I marry?

You can legally marry anyone who is old enough to marry, who is not already married, apart from these close relatives, your:

Father
Son
Father’s father
Mother’s father
Son’s son
Daughter’s son
Brother
Husband’s father
Husband’s son
Mother’s husband
Daughter’s husband
Father’s mother’s husband
Mother’s mother’s husband
Husband’s father’s father
Husband’s mother’s father
Husband’s sons’s son
Husband’s daughter’s son
Son’s daughter’s husband
Daughter’s daughter’s husband
Father’s brother
Mother’s brother
Brother’s son
Sister’s son
Mother’s brother’s son
Mother’s sister’s son
Father’s brother’s son
Father’s sister’s son
Mother’s brother’s daughter’s son
Mother’s brother’s son’s son
Mother’s sister’s daughter’s son
Mother’s sister’s son’s son
Father’s sister’s daughter’s son
Father’s sister’s son’s son
Mother’s father’s brother’s son
Mother’s father’s sister’s son
Mother’s mother’s brother’s son
Mother’s mother’s sister’s son
Father’s father’s sister’s son
Father’s father’s brother’s son
Father’s mother’s brother’s son
Father’s mother’s sister’s son
Mother’s father’s brother’s daughter’s son
Mother’s father’s brother’s son’s son
Mother’s father’s sister’s son’s son
Mother’s mother’s brother’s daughter’s son
Mother’s mother’s brother’s son’s son
Mother’s mother’s sister’s daughter’s son
Mother’s mother’s sister’s son’s son
Mother’s father’s sister’s daughter’s son
Father’s father’s brother’s daughter’s son
Father’s father’s brother’s son’s son
Father’s mother’s brother’s son’s son
Father’s mother’s brother’s daughter’s son
Father’s mother’s sister’s daughter’s son
Father’s mother’s sister’s son’s son
Mother’s father’s brother
Mother’s mother’s brother
Father’s father’s brother

All of these family relationships are called prohibited degrees in the law

There may be other relationships that are not frowned upon under Tuvaluan custom, but which are not legally forbidden.



How do I get legally married?

First you will have to give 21 days notice of your intended marriage to the registrar of the district where your marriage will take
place.

Either you or your intended husband must have been living in the district for at least 28 days. The registrar is usually the I.E.O.
on the island.

You will have to take your parent’s written consent, if necessary, to the registrar, and pay a small fee. The registrar will then
show the notice to the public to see if anyone has an objection to your marriage.

If there are any objections (this is rare but does sometimes happen), then the registrar has to investigate and find out why
people do not agree to your marriage. The registrar will only give you a certificate for marriage when he is sure that the
objection is not a good and reasonable one.

Once the notice has been shown to the public for 21 days, and any objections have been dealt with, the registrar will then give
you a certificate for marriage.

You can now go through the marriage ceremony at any time as long as it is within 3 months of the date that the Notice was first
posted up.

If for some reason you are unable to have the marriage ceremony within the 3 month period you will have to start the process
again.



Do I have to wait for the certificate?

If you are in a hurry to get married, you can apply to the Island Court for a license for a quick marriage. This license will cost
you more than a normal one. The Court may agree that there is no need for a certificate and allow the marriage to be held
sooner than the 21 days if it is satisfied:

that there is no lawful reason to not allow it,
that you have got any necessary consent from your parents of guardian,
that the secretary to Government has been told, and
that the granting of your application is reasonable in the circumstances.



Getting married in a church

If you want to get married by a minister of religion or a lay preacher, be sure to check first that they are registered to perform a
legal marriage ceremony.

A church marriage must be performed in public.

If it is performed in secret it is not a legal marriage. You must also have two witnesses over the age of 21 years old. Witnesses
are people who can see and hear what is going on, can see and hear the marriage ceremony. Both you and your intended
husband must say that you wish to marry one another in front of these witnesses.

You can get married in a church or other place of worship between 6 o’clock in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening.



Getting married in a civil office

If you get married in a registry or a court-house your marriage does not have to be public, but you will still need two witnesses
over the age of 21 years old.

You can get married in a civil office between 8 o’clock in the morning and 4.30 o’clock in the afternoon.

There are no other differences between a church and a civil marriage.



Do I have to take my husband’s surname when I marry?

No, you do not have to. Although it is a common and traditional thing to do there is no legal obligation to do so.



What if my intended husband is not living in Tuvalu?

It is possible for you to get married without your intended husband coming to Tuvalu. This is called marriage ‘by proxy’. To do
this you will have to apply to the Registrar General for his permission.



The People’s Lawyer

If you want any advice about the legal side of getting married, then you can ask the People’s Lawyer.



Some words explained:

consent - to agree to something freely, honestly, without being forced and with a clear mind

de facto wife - a woman who lives as a wife, but who is not legally married

divorce - the legal ending of a marriage in the courts ( marriage can also be ended by nullity or death)

evidence - proof of what the facts are; for example, proof of someone’s age

legal - according to the written laws of Tuvalu

maintenance - the food, clothing and other basic needs that a husband must provide for his wife and children, even after
divorce or separation.

matrimonial property - all the goods, property and money that a husband and wife buy or aquire while they are married, and
which is divided between them when they separate or divorce

order - a decision of the court, written down on paper and saying what should happen

separation - when a married couple stop living together as man and wife



This leaflet is one of a series published by the Office of the People’s Lawyer to help you to understand and to use
the law. Other leaflets available to you are:

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