The information you provided to us indicates that Thep K~, SSN ~, filed an application
for auxiliary wife's benefits on the account of Te K~, SSN ~. The couple has been
domiciled in Missouri since July 1979. According to their statements, Te K~ and Thep
K~ were never formally married. However, they state that they have always held themselves
out as husband and wife. The couple lived in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand prior to
coming to the United States in 1979. Because there is no precedent opinion regarding
the recognition of common law marriage in Cambodia or Laos, you have asked for a legal
opinion as to whether common law marriage is or was recognized in these countries.
For the reasons explained below, we conclude that common law marriage was not recognized
in any of the countries in which the couple resided prior to coming to the United
Statements made by the couple indicate that they have been together since 1969, and
have always held themselves out as husband and wife. However, they were never formally
married. They stated that they lived in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, prior to coming
to the United States in 1979. Te K~ indicated that the couple lived in Laos from at
least 1973 through 1976, at which time they moved to a refugee camp in Thailand. The
couple was still living in Thailand in August 1978 when their daughter was born. He
did not state when the couple lived in Cambodia.
We requested advice from the Law Library of the Library of Congress and received the
attached response concerning the laws regarding marriage in Cambodia. The Cambodian
Civil Code of 1920 was applied in Cambodia until the Khmer Rouge came to power in
1975. During the period from 1975 to 1979, there was neither a general legal system,
nor a particular law governing family matters.
The Civil Code of 1920 required that an announcement of an impending marriage be posted
at the town hall as well as at the residence of each prospective spouse for at least
eight days before the actual civil ceremony took place. To be considered legal, a
marriage had to be conducted in the presence of an authorized civil status officer
located in the bride's place of residence. This officer would record the marriage
in the marriage register in accordance with the requirement set forth by law. Ritual
and religious ceremonies were very important in the celebration of a marriage in Cambodia.
They always preceded the civil ceremony, but they alone did not create any legal consequences
for the couple's relationship.
A new Law on Marriage and the Family was promulgated in July 1989. Under the 1989
law, in order to be considered valid, a marriage had to be carried out in accordance
with stated conditions and forms. The procedures required the recording of the marriage
contract by an authorized administrative officer at the wife's place of residence,
and the issuance of a marriage certificate by that officer.
Based on the information provided, there are no provisions for common law marriage
in Cambodia currently nor were there provisions for common law marriage when the K~'s
resided there. In the facts you presented to us, the couple did not marry in the presence
of an authorized civil status officer, and did not record a marriage in the marriage
register. Accordingly, there was no valid marriage under the Civil Code of 1920.
From 1975 to 1979 there was no legal system. However, because common law marriages
were not recognized in Cambodia prior to this period, nor after this period, and because
there was no legal system during this period which could recognize a common law marriage,
we conclude that Cambodia would not recognize common law marriages during the period
from 1975 to 1979.
We also requested advice from the Library of Congress regarding Laotian law. The Modified
Civil and Commercial Code of December 1927, as amended by the Ordinance Law No. 247
of August 1965, set forth the laws regarding marriage until December 1990. Marriages
had to be carried out in accordance with traditional customs and ceremonies, but also
had to be witnessed. The village official was required to prepare and sign a marriage
certificate. That document would then be sent to a court to be kept as a record, and
a notarized copy would be given to the couple. There were no provisions for common
Laos promulgated a Family Law on December 24, 1990, which became effective that same
day. It provides that all marriages have to be registered with the family registrar
office, in the presence of witnesses. A traditional wedding ceremony may be conducted
simultaneously with the marriage registration or after it, but such a ceremony is
optional and without legal impact. An account of customs in Laos states that couples
may go through a traditional ceremony and be considered married by the community without
marriage registration, but such a relationship is not given legal recognition by the
Based on the information provided, there was no marriage witnessed by a village official,
nor was there a marriage certificate. Accordingly, the marriage cannot be considered
valid under Laotian law.
As noted in your request for a legal opinion, common law marriages were not recognized
in Thailand from October 1, 1935, through at least May 1985, unless validly registered
with the civil authorities. The Law Library of the Library of Congress advised that
Thailand's Civil and Commercial Code was amended in 1990, but that common law marriages
are still not recognized. The 1990 text states that "Marriage under this Code shall
be effected only on registration being made." In times of war, or when due to special
circumstances marriage registration is not possible, a simple, witnessed declaration
of intention to marry will suffice, so long as the marriage is registered within 90
days of the first possible opportunity to apply for registration of marriage.
Based on the information provided, the marriage was never registered. Accordingly,
the marriage cannot be considered valid under Thai law.
Common law marriages were not recognized as valid marriages in Cambodia, Laos, or
Thailand, between 1969 and 1979. Based on the information provided, the alleged marriage
did not satisfy the requirements for marriage in any of these countries. Accordingly,
the alleged marriage cannot be recognized as a valid marriage.
Very truly yours,
Frank V. S~ III
Regional Chief Counsel
Kristin L. E~
Assistant Regional Counsel.