As many foreigners have discovered to their dismay, marrying or divorcing a Lao citizen is not a straightforward process. Unlike most other jurisdictions, a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Lao government in order to marry a Lao.
Under Lao law, there are two ways of certifying a marriage to a Lao citizen in Laos:
- To have a foreign marriage certificate certified; or
- To obtain a Lao Marriage Certificate.
We note that whilst certifying a foreign marriage certificate is possible and legal (under the Decree on Marriage between Lao and Foreigner No. 198 dated 19 December 1994), the Ministry of Public Security (Foreigner Control Department) has advised completion of this process will not, in practice, be recognised by the Lao police, immigration officials or village authorities who will in general only recognise a Lao Marriage Certificate as proof of marriage between a Lao and foreigner.
As it is illegal for a foreign-Lao couple to cohabit together before marriage, if the couple are planning on living and working in Laos, it is highly recommended that they obtain a Lao Marriage Certificate.
Certifying a foreign marriage certificate
The process of certifying a foreign marriage certificate is relatively simple and straight forward, and requires the following steps to be taken:
- Lodge the foreign Marriage Certificate with the Lao Embassy in the country of issue for certification/authentication.
- Lodge the foreign Marriage Certificate certified by the Lao Embassy with the Embassy of the issuing country of the certificate in Lao PDR for further certification/authentication.
- Finally, lodge the twice certified foreign Marriage Certificate with the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) for certification/authentication.
The only document required to support this process is the foreign Marriage Certificate and adequate identification documents of the applicants (passport).
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Obtaining a Lao Marriage Certificate
The overall process for obtaining a Lao Marriage Certificate involves the presentation of a number of documents, interviews and assessment of the application by various government offices (and payment of various Government fees).
Below is a very brief discussion of the steps required to marry your beloved. Obviously every marriage (and divorce!) is different and you should obtain specific legal advice relating to your circumstances.
What the foreigner needs to provide for marriage to a Lao citizen
All of these documents must be translated into Lao and be certified by the Ministry of Justice.
- Letter of no objection from the foreigner’s parents or organization.
- Marriage application form. This would be the written application by himself requesting the authorities’ acknowledgement of foreign marriage certificate, which would be signed as witness by the Village Chief.
- House registration (residency certificate) and birth certificate, from his home country.
- Curriculum Vitae.
- Medical certificate.
- Single status certificate or proof of divorced status, from his home country.
- Police clearance (not exceed 6 months from the issue date) from his home country.
- Financial statement.
- Copy of passport.
- A letter confirming the foreigner’s intention to ensure the Lao citizen’s return to Laos in the event of divorce.
- 6 photos size 3×4 (not exceed 6 months from the taken date).
What the Lao citizen needs to provide
- Proof of engagement.
- Letter of no objection of parents.
- Marriage application form.
- House registration and birth certificate .
- Curriculum Vitae.
- Medical certificate .
- Single status certificate or proof of divorced status.
- Police clearance.
- Financial statement.
- Lao ID or copy of passport.
- Record interview from Population & District Police and Province Police.
- 6 photos size 3×4
Legal status of baci ceremonies for engagements and marriages
The marriage application form includes the requirement for a Proof of Engagement Letter, which must be signed by both families as witnesses together with the Village Chief. There must be a Lao engagement ceremony or similar in front of the Village Chief, even if there is an engagement party overseas.
Who is the marriage application made to
The application documents will go to:
- District Administration Office (District of the Lao citizen resident).
- Population & District Police (Interview).
- Population & Province Police (Interview).
- Foreigner Management Department.
- Immigration – Emigration Department (Interview).
- General Security Police Department.
- Justice Management Department.
- Provincial Administration Office
How can a foreigner and Lao citizen divorce
The simple agreement to divorce will apply in the situation where:
- A couple mutually agrees to divorce.
- The couple have no disagreement over the children of the marriage.
- The couple have no disagreement over marriage property.
- The couple have no disagreement over liabilities.
The Court will oversee and order divorce where:
- The request for divorce is submitted by the husband or wife but the other spouse does not agree to the divorce.
- If there is a disagreement in respect of the welfare of children, marriage property or liabilities of the divorcing couple.
When a court receives the request for a divorce the court has a duty to try to reconcile the couple. In the event that reconciliation does not occur immediately, additional time for consideration not exceeding three months shall be given.
If the married couple do not reconcile, the court shall grant the divorce if it appears that they cannot cohabit or care for and preserve the family unit. In its decision on divorce, the court must formulate measures to protect the interests of minor children and if the husband or the wife is unable to work support him or herself.
After the pronouncement of divorce by the court, the court must send two copies of its decision to the family registrar officer for registration of the divorce, and give one copy to each spouse.
Custody of the children
If a husband and wife do not agree on the custody of children after divorce, the court shall decide whether the father or mother should have custody taking into consideration the children’s interests.
A divorced couple must care for and educate their children. The court shall decide on the child support to be provided until the children reach maturity based on agreement between the husband and wife or based on the court’s decision in the event that agreement cannot be reached between the husband and wife.
This article has been provided by Arion Legal, (incorporating McDonald Steed McGrath) an Australian law firm, with an office in Vientiane that has been offering international standard legal advice and documentation for foreign investors operating in, or looking to invest in, Laos since 2008.