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Marriage Law in Bahrain

Marriages as per Islamic Law

Although Gulf Arabs are entitled to marry as soon as they reach puberty, in the past few decades there have been some changes in how Bahrain families are formed and the way they live. Some portions of western culture have been adapted to benefit the family structure in Bahrain, and one such aspect is that the average age at which people marry has been increased considerably in recent years to around 20.

Although arranged marriages are common, the bride and groom now often have a chance to meet before marriage. Marriages are usually very large and extravagant and consist of up to 600 guests.

As is the case in Arab marriages, in a typical Bahraini arranged marriage, there are three main elements involved. Firstly, the groom discusses and agrees the dowry with the bride’s father, and this may include jewellery, gold, and clothing and is usually of considerable value. Then comes the actual marriage contract, conducted by a legal or religious representative. The bride is asked for consent to the marriage in the absence of prospective groom, and if she agrees to the marriage, the same question is put to the groom.

After the agreement, the groom joins hands with his future father-in-law and marriage gets official with the presence of two witnesses. Even the wedding party celebrations are segregated with the women in one section of the house and men in another. The couple meet only on the last night of celebrations, accompanied by their friends and eventually leave on their honeymoon. On their return, they either live with the groom’s parents and become members of the extended family or set up home by themselves.

The Sharia law permits a Muslim man to have up to four wives, provided, he can look after them materially and treat them equally. However, this practice is now dying out, as only a few can afford it, and women are getting more assertive and independent and refuse to accept it.

In fact, a Muslim woman can insert a clause in the marriage contract that restricts her husband from marrying another woman, provided the contract is valid. The wife also retains her name after marriage.

Although the gender roles are clearly defined in Islamic marriages, with man taking up the role of ‘provider’ and women being the ‘nurturer’, now-a-days both husband and wife are going out to work.

Expatriate marriages in Bahrain

There are several expatriates getting married in Bahrain. Although a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts into Islam, the reverse isn’t the case.

However, it is said that non-Muslim women are often pressurized into converting and there have been instances of foreign women marrying Arabs and then discovering that the local culture and lifestyle are unacceptably restrictive. Women entering into such marriages should be aware that in the event of breakdown of such a union, the children are usually kept by the husband in his home country.

Expatriates can be married in Bahrain, but, the process is largely determined by the civil and religious requirements of their home country. Embassy and consulate staff may perform civil marriage ceremonies, provided, certain requirements are met. The Ministry of Justice in Bahrain may require an NOC from your embassy. However, your embassy may have its own regulations to obtain this. It is best to check with your embassy for up-to-date information on this.

If you wish to have a civil marriage in Bahrain, you will require an NOC from your Embassy and an NOC from your employer/sponsor to the Ministry of Justice in the Diplomatic Area.

Muslims can marry in the House of Judgement at the Ministry of Justice. In addition to the requirements above, you will require a letter from the father of the bride.

All other religious ceremonies can be arranged by contacting the relevant church or temple, although you will still require the above mentioned documents to conduct the civil aspect of the marriage.

Roman Catholics can marry at the Sacred Heart Church on Shaikh Isa al Khabeer Avenue and Anglicans at St. Christopher’s Cathedral opposite the Police Fort.

There are two Hindu temples, one on the Manama Souk and the other dedicated to Goddess Durga, located in the desert beyond Alba, south of Sitra.

There are also three Sikh Gurudwaras in Bahrain. For a Hindu wedding, no court document is required. It doesn’t have to take place in a temple, and can be performed anywhere.

The fee for an expatriate marriage will depend on your embassy charges, your nationality and on the amount charged by the institution carrying out the ceremony.

The marriage is then registered at the respective embassy.

Law of Seperation

As per the Islamic Law, a man can divorce his wife by simply saying ‘I divorce you’ three times. If this was said in the heat of the moment, he can rescind, but, only if the wife agrees, and again only in three occasions! On the other hand, even if a wife has a good reason to seek a divorce, she will have to go to a court for the case to be heard.

The Islamic divorce falls under one of the two categories – a revocable divorce or an irrevocable divorce. If the divorce is an irrevocable one, the husband can only return to the wife with her consent and under a new contract of a marriage. The husband should maintain a divorced wife and any children from the marriage, if the wife is unable to support herself. He can claim custody of any sons, when they reach the age of ten. The wife, after divorce, usually returns to her family and only a few remarry.

If the divorce is initiated by the wife, the wife may proceed to the court for a divorce by court order. However, the divorce may be granted by the court only under special circumstances such as bodily or mental defects, abuses of any kind, imprisonment or addiction, husband’s failure to pay alimony or if the husband is missing.

There is also the ‘waiting period’, referred to as ‘Uddah’ in Islamic law, which refers to the period of waiting for wife/widow, after the divorce/death of her husband, during which, she cannot remarry. The Uddah period will give spouses time to reconsider the divorce and/or protect the mixing of lineage. The waiting period of the widow is four months and 10 days from the date of death of the husband.

Custody Disputes

To decide on custody disputes, the Bahrain courts usually take into account the residence, religion, income, marital status, health and other circumstances of each of the parents. The wife is usually granted custody of the son under 15 years and the daughter until she is 17 or until she marries. On attaining the age of discretion, the son/daughter will be allowed to choose the parent or legal custodian they wish to live with.

However, there is no specific law in Bahrain governing child custody, and each dispute is decided on case-to-case basis. Whenever a child custody dispute arises between parents, one of whom is a Bahrain national, the custody decisions are based on Islamic law.

Non-Bahraini nationals, whether married to a Bahraini or other national, may file custody cases through a lawyer approved to practice in Bahrain in the court in which marriage was legalized (Sunni, Shia or Civil). Expatriates can file custody dispute cases in the Bahrain civil court.

In Bahraini courts, priority is usually given to a Muslim father, irrespective of his nationality. Non-custodial parents (both the mother and father) are entitled to visitation by prior arrangement of the competent court. However, neither the court nor a custodial parent has the right to stop a non-Bahraini parent from entering Bahrain to visit the child.

Please note: This information is for guidance purposes only and liable to change without notice. Please check with respective embassy of the country in which you intend to marry regarding latest details and marriage laws applicable.