The family and personal status law in Kuwait is governed by religious courts. The Kuwaiti legal system is based on Law of Islam. The Kuwaiti family law code that governs issues such as divorce, marriage, child custody and inheritance was enacted in 1984.
The two major sects of Islam - Sunni and Shia's, recognize various interpretations of Shariá law (Islamic Law). In Kuwait, the Sunni and the Shiá have their own courts to handle family law and personal status matters. The Sunni employ the Maliki or the Hanbali interpretation of Islamic law, while the Shiá uses the Jafari interpretation.
Decision on matters such as the court law (Sunni or Shiá) to be followed will depend on the particular Islamic sect of the husband or father. About 70percent of Kuwait's Muslim population is Sunni, while the remaining 30percent is Shiá. A tiny majority of Kuwaitis are Christian.
In an Islamic marriage, a contract is signed between the groom and Wakeel (ranking male member) of the bride's family. It is formally executed in the presence of an authorized religious figure or judge, two male witnesses and the officiator. It is a must that the spouses, the wife’s guardian and two male witnesses attend the procedures.
An Islamic contract specifies the religion of the bride and groom, although it is not a must to specify the sect of Islam. The contract will mention the number of wives the groom has. The Islam religion permits a man to have up to four wives at the same time, provided, he is able to support them equally. Of course, if you are a male and would like to contract another marriage, the first wife should agree to the marriage. If the first wife doesn't agree, it's grounds for divorce. The man can apply for a divorce, and after examining the circumstances, the court will grant him a divorce. However, this practice is dying out now, because only a few can afford it, and also because women are more independent and are no longer willing to tolerate such laws. The bride cannot stop her husband from a re-marriage, but, with the permission of groom and the officiator, can include a clause that allows her to divorce her husband if he marries another woman.
The contract includes the dowry amount and its details too, like an immediate dowry payable by the groom to bride on date of marriage and a deferred dowry, payable to the bride if her husband divorces her, or he dies. Both dowries will be mentioned in the contract.
When the bride/groom is a non-Muslim:
In Kuwait, the religion of the husband will determine the application of Islamic law in future. If the husband is a non-Kuwaiti, the interpretation of Islamic law applied will be based on his nationality at the time of marriage, in case the couple wish to seek legal recourse.
A non-Muslim male cannot marry a Muslim female unless he converts to Islam. A Muslim male may marry a non-Muslim female, provided, she follows another "book" faith (Christian or Jewish).
However, non-Muslim women are often pressurised into converting into Islam, and many find the local culture unacceptably restrictive. In the event of breakdown of such a marriage, the children are usually kept by the husband in his home country.
The couples may have to produce the following documents in the court for their marriage, depending on their status at the time of marriage.
- Civil ID or nationality certificate (for Kuwaiti applicants)
- Civil ID or passport (for resident applicants)
- Letter from the Executive Committee and the personal identification (for illegal resident applicant)
- Determination of heirs (for widow applicants)
- Letter from the Public Institution for Social Security, (in cases where the husband is a student, a dealer, a retired, or unemployed)
- Determination of heirs, (if the guardian is deceased)
- Divorce certification (in case of divorcees)
- Special power of attorney
- Marriage permit from the employer (if the husband is a military man)
The procedure involves visiting the authentication office at Ahmadi Court Complex or Riggai Court Complex, and submitting the requisite documents, filling up the service application form, and paying the due fee to carry out the proceedings.
Expatriate weddings & Marriage Certificate
Expatriate workers can get married in Kuwait, provided, they meet the civil and religious requirements in their home country. Embassy and consulate staff performs civil marriage ceremonies on meeting certain requirements.
Attorney Ahmed Al-Mutairi, a Family Lawyer and a former judge at the Palace of Justice said that there is no distinction in Kuwaiti Law, irrespective of whether you are on article 18 to 20 visa, or a Kuwaiti. If you decide to get married, Kuwait has the same law for all. If you like to solemnize your marriage, you can directly visit the Ahmadi or Riggae Sharia/civil court with your particular documents. These courts accept applications for civil marriage from people of any nationality. This is applicable to Muslim and Non-Muslims, although, the latter are subject to other legal requirements too.
Expats planning to get married in Kuwait will have to produce a Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) prior to executing the marriage ceremony, to confirm that they have not been previously married, or that their previous marriage is legally terminated. These certificates are obtained in person from embassy. The notice should be submitted minimum of 21 days ahead of marriage.
Civil weddings are held on Sundays and Wednesdays in the Ministry of Justice Building at Soor Street on the Ground Floor of Block 15.
The couple will have to be accompanied by two adult male witnesses and should produce documentations such as CNIs for bride and groom, civil Ids of bride, groom and both, original passports, and copy of residency stamped in the passport (for expats).
The application form will be completed in Arabic, and you will have to meet the judge. On completion of formalities you will be legally married in Kuwait. For registration of marriage in your own country, however, you will require translation and attestation by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, prior to being accepted by your embassy.
Marriage certificate attestation is required to obtain a suitable family visa of Kuwait.
Christian Weddings in Kuwait
Christians residing in Kuwait can get married in a church or under Sharia Law in court. The church will offer you with details of documentation, fees and other requirements. Church weddings are available with different legal formalities. Weddings solemnised at St. Paul’s and Roman Catholic Churches in Ahmadi can be recorded at General Register’s Office. A couple married in the Evangelical church will be required to undergo a civil ceremony.
In order for a marriage contract signed in Church to be recognized, it needs signature of a Notary at the Ministry of Justice.
As for validity of the marriage, it is better to consult your Church priest.
Note: Once the formalities are completed, and you are legally married in Kuwait, you will have to register your marriage in your home country too. For this, however, you will require a translation and attestation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then you may submit it to your embassy.
In majority of Muslim countries, Islam Law allows husbands to divorce their wives without any reason by just by stating "I divorce you" three times before it gets irrevocable. After the first two divorces, the husband may nullify the divorce within 90 days, but, the third time, it is final, and he cannot remarry her unless she first marries and is divorced by another man.
Shiá Law stipulates that a man should appear before the judge for the divorce to be official. Sunni Law makes it even easy for a husband to divorce, as he only need to record the divorce with registrar of the personal affairs court. If the wife disagrees with nullification of the divorce, she must go to court to receive a formal divorce.
Women in both Sunni and Shiá marriages may divorce their husbands. A divorce initiated by the wife is final. Under Sunni law, a wife may cite a variety of causes in support of divorce, but, both Sunni and Shi’a laws do not allow a woman to divorce her husband solely because he married another woman, unless specified in their marriage contract.
In most divorce cases, husbands, by law, are required to pay monthly alimony payments for each child born of their marriage. These payments are based on husband's salary and takes into account his financial abilities and obligations. The payments continue for girls untill marriage, and for boys till they reach 18. The husbands will also have to provide funds to cover housing, transportation and other household maintenance expenses.
In custody issues due to divorce, Kuwaiti Law favours the mother for small children. Girls usually live with their mother until they marry. In the case of boys, when they reach puberty, they can choose whether to reside with their mother or father.
In Sunni Law, the custody is based on what is best for the child at various ages. Custody of the child is also based on religion of the mother. If the mother is Muslim, the mother will typically be granted custody of her children.
In Shiá Law, custody decisions are based on the rights of parents. For a woman to receive custody of her children in case of divorce, she should be a Muslim, and should not have remarried.
Note: The family law code for Kuwait is currently available only in Arabic. Therefore, it is particularly important to know your rights, and before going to court always ensure that you have a fluent Arabic speaker with you for all legal dealings. The marriage laws are liable to change from time to time. Therefore, for advice on marriage in Kuwait, visit Kuwaiti authorities, or a lawyer practising in Kuwait