PR 05630.066 Cambodia
A. PR 06-155 Common Law Marriage in Cambodia and Laos
DATE: May 31, 2006
The couple did not marry in the presence of an authorized civil status officer and did not record a marriage in the marriage register. Common law marriages were not recognized as valid marriages in Cambodia, Laos or Thailand between 1969 and 1979.
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 States.
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 law marriages.
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 Family Law.
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. See POMS GN 00307.255. 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.