Guide to Thailand Marriage Laws and Rights: Everything You Need to Know

Marriage Laws and Rights

We all know how appealing and seductive it is to get your human needs met. But what are our rights as foreigners if we decide to get married? How do we get married and also protect our assets?

In this post I'll help you to understand the marriage laws and rights in Thailand Discover your rights as a married couple and ensure a smooth and lawful marriage process in this beautiful country.

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Domestic Relations Law in Thailand

For many foreigners coming to live in Thailand, the law regarding domestic relations (marriage, divorce, relationship between parents and children) will seem unfamiliar. Unfortunately, many foreigners learn the lessons of Thai domestic relations law when it is too late. There is a lot to cover, so we will only discuss broad concepts that will be of most interest to foreigners living in Thailand.

A marriage in Thailand is legal only if registered at a district office in the Kingdom. A village ceremony without registration is not considered legal marriage in Thailand. “Common Law” marriage is not recognized in Thailand. A couple can register their marriage in any district office regardless of the legal domicile of either party. It must be between a man and a woman who are both at least 17 years of age (marriage under 17 years of age is permitted only by court order). A person at least 17 years of age but younger than 20 years of age must obtain consent from his/her guardian. Other than that, there are the usual prohibitions against marrying a person who is a close relative, marrying a person who does not have legal capacity, and bigamy. Before the computer age, a person was able to marry more than once simply by registering subsequent marriages at a different district office. All of the information in online now so this is no longer possible.

For Thai nationals to get married is rather easy and it takes about 15 minutes, depending on the crowd at the district office that day. A foreigner must obtain a declaration of freedom to marry from his embassy, have it translated, and then have the translation certified at the Department of Legalization in Bangkok or from a legitimate translation service.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements are valid in Thailand only if registered at the district office at the time of the marriage. There are certain issues which are a matter of public policy which the parties cannot agree to change from the default legal provisions. For example, most agreements regarding children (assuming that a couple has children before marriage registration) must be approved by the court. A prenuptial agreement can be useful in detailing exactly what assets and liabilities each party has before entering the marriage and agreeing that any property acquired afterwards will be divided in half. This can be very useful because there is a legal presumption that any property held by a couple during marriage is “marital property” subject to equitable distribution. If there is a prenuptial agreement, it would be much easier for a party to prove that the alleged “marital property” was actually purchased with pre-existing “personal property.”

Having Children With a Thai

This is perhaps the most important issue of all. In Thailand, a child born out of wedlock (legal, registered marriage) is considered the legitimate issue of the mother. A child born out of wedlock IS NOT considered the legal issue of the father. Even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate, a child born out of wedlock is not considered the legal issue of the father. This means, basically, that no legal relationship exists between the father and the child. It is very, very difficult, if not impossible, for a father to legitimize the relationship between his child and himself. A mother can quite literally indicate any man she wants as the father of the child and consent to complete the legitimization process with that man.

Legitimization of a child can occur in two ways. First, if a couple has a child out of wedlock, and then registers a marriage, any child born to the couple prior to marriage registration will be considered the legitimate child of the husband. The couple must inform the district official at the time of marital registration and provide all details.

The second way of achieving legitimization of a child by a father would be through registering the father as the legitimate parent at the district office. If the child is still too young to indicate who his father is (say, under the age of 7), the district office will require a court order. As a practical matter, the district office will require foreign fathers to obtain a court order regardless of the child’s age.

Divorce In Thailand

The easiest way for a couple to divorce is to simply appear at the district office and register the divorce. Foreigners must be very careful about this because they will likely be signing documents they cannot read and about which they do not understand the legal significance. If there are children and/or large amounts of property involved, it can be a good idea to have an attorney prepare a divorce agreement which settles the rights and obligations of the party with regard to property and children. There are many issues regarding property and, especially children, which are best handled by lawyers. The district officials are not lawyers and the forms they provide are insufficient in most cases. Before bemoaning the few thousand baht it would cost to obtain proper legal services before the divorce, think about the cost (both in human terms and monetary terms) involved in going to court afterwards to try and convince a court that you really didn’t know you were giving your wife full custody of your child.

For couples without children and a lot of property, a lawyer is not necessary and, if both parties consent, they can simply go to the district office and complete the process themselves.

The other way to get divorced in Thailand is through the courts. One party must sue the other party for divorce in court. In the process there are several rounds of court-ordered mediation where a judge sits down with the parties and tries to have them agree on a settlement. Mediation is successful in more than 87% of the cases. If mediation is not successful, and one or both parties do not consent, an action for divorce can be a long, difficult case as divorce will only be granted for “cause”.

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