Christian Personal Status Laws

Chapter one | General Provisions on Marriage

- For Catholics: 16 years for males, 14 years for females.

- For Armenian Orthodox: 18 years for males, 15 years for females; however the spiritual leader may authorize the marriage between a 16 year old male and a 14 year old female, in unusual circumstances or for a very important reason.

- For Greek Orthodox: 18 years for males and females, however, when necessary, marriage can be held between a male who is no less than 17 years old and a female who is aged less than 15 years, taking into account the physical and health condition, the approval of the custodian, and the diocese permission.

- For Syriac Orthodox: 18 years for males, 14 years for females.

- For Assyrians: 18 years for males, 14 years for females.

The court before which the marriage contract is made is the only entity authorized to examine any conflict arising therefrom.

Guardianship in marriages belongs to the father since he holds, alone, the parental authority, except for the Armenian Orthodox where fathers and mothers hold the parental authority equally.

For Christians, when a girl turns 18, she does not need the authorization of her guardian. However this authorization is needed for as long as the girl is under the age of 18 even if she reaches the legal age of marriage as specified by Christian communities.

For Christians, couples must commit to common life and cooperation, union, cohabitation, maintaining mutual respect and integrity in addition to teaching their children religious and moral values. A husband is supposed to support his wife and children since he is considered the family’s breadwinner.

As for wives, their obligations vary between communities. They have for example to:

  • Be named after their husbands (Greek Orthodox and Assyrian Orthodox churches).
  • Support their husband where he is in need and lacks revenue (Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrian Orthodox and Evangelical churches).
  • Refrain from exercising any job without her husband’s approval (Armenian Orthodox church).

Guardianship or what is called parental authority provides the guardian with a powerful authority over a minor (both males and females) until reaching adulthood and includes the management of assets, education and life in general.

As for custody, it is the daily care of a minor (both male and female) who shall be taught religious, ethical and civil values.

- For the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches: a mother has the right to custody when the father loses his right to custody provided the mother fulfils the capacity requirements.

- For the Armenian Orthodox church: fathers and mothers exercise parental authority equally.

- For the Syriac Orthodox church: the mother is the guardian when the father grants her such right.

- For the Evangelical church: the mother shall be the guardian upon the father’s death provided she has good conduct, is ethically correct and is capable of raising her children. Christian communities have unanimously agreed on the right of a mother to be granted guardianship where marriage is dissolved because of the father.

- For the Catholic church: The legal age of custody is the breastfeeding age namely two years; the religious court shall have a discretionary power in granting custody taking into account the best interests of minors (both males and females).

- For the Greek Orthodox church: The age of custody is 14 for males and 15 for females.

- For the Armenian Orthodox church: The age of custody is 7 for males and 9 for females (same for the Syriac Orthodox and Assyrian churches).

- For the Evangelical church: The age of custody is 12 for males and females.

It is a legal action initiated in concomitance with the action brought for marriage dissolution, annulment or separation and requesting the designation of the legal custodian for the minor as per the provisions of the law and the best interests of the minor.

The most important reasons are the following:

- If a woman remarries after dissolution of the marriage or the death of the husband

- If a woman is “dissonant” or misbehaves for as long as she maintains the same behavior

- If she is the cause for breaking the couple’s common life.

Personal status laws use the adjective “dissonant” exclusively for women when they leave the marital home without any valid excuse. We shall examine this matter under Chapter 8 on cohabitation.

The Court may seek the children’s opinion as a matter of courtesy; however their opinion is not binding. The Court is the only authority capable of making a decision, while always taking into account the child’s best interest.

If a child is still with the father when the legal action is brought before Court, he/she shall remain with him until the Court issues a verdict. The same applies in the cases where children are with the mother.
Child abuse is one of the main reasons for which the right to custody extinguishes because, in this case, the custodian does not preserve the child’s safety.
For Christians, a custodian does not need to have her own revenue to win her children’s custody as it is incumbent on the father to pay alimony since he is the family’s breadwinner; alimony includes eating, drinking, housing, learning and medical care.

Alimony is a husband’s obligation to spend on his wife. It includes food, cloths, medical care, housing, and whatever is deemed necessary for a wife to have a decent living.

The request for alimony has to be concomitant with the case proceedings namely the separation, annulment or dissolution of marriage. It is decided by the religious court when the case is filed or no more than six months before.

A wife may ask for a summary alimony during divorce proceedings. It is decided by the religious court before the initial proceedings are settled (namely separation, annulment or dissolution).

- In the cases of separation: the separation decision includes alimony when claimed by the wife.

- In the cases of annulment, dissolution or divorce: when the marriage contract is dissolved further to a decision to terminate or annul the contract or in the case of divorce, the husband is no longer bound to pay alimony however the wife may ask for compensation when marriage is terminated because of the husband.

By principle, alimony is a wife’s right over the husband. However, for exceptional cases, a husband may ask the wife to pay alimony where the wife is well off and the husband is in dire conditions. In this case, the wife is bound to pay alimony until the husband’s situation changes.

When the husband bound to pay alimony refrains therefrom, the Chamber of Execution may issue a decision to incarcerate him or impose seizure on his possessions, if any. His salary may be confiscated if he is an employee at a public or a private company.

For Christians, a wife’s right to alimony extinguishes where she is found “dissonant” or is the main cause for marriage termination.

Chapter four | Visitation
Visitation is the right of one of the parents to visit and accompany a child who is not in his/her custody.

The visitation time and place are determined by the Court and on a case by case basis. Hence, it could mean the possibility of visiting children in day time, for a full day or more with or without overnight visitation.

This request is filed when the couple is unable to reach an amicable decision about organizing visitation or when the other party is forbidden from visitation. A decision is made along with the main proceedings for separation, annulment or dissolution.

It should not be unless there is fear for the child to be kidnapped or harmed.

The Court has to make sure that children are the ones rejecting visitation; in which case they cannot be forced to.

If a child’s rejection results from pressure exercised by the father, the mother, the parents or any other person, the Court has the right to impose visitation by enabling the parent to exercise his/her right to visitation without any pressure.

It is if the Court decides so.

In this case a penal action can be brought before the competent authority.

Chapter five | Separation

It is a measure by which couples live in separate dwellings, while maintaining the bond which forbids either from concluding a new marriage. Separation can be temporary or permanent.

Separation is temporary for other Christian communities in one of the following reasons:

- For the Catholic and the Armenian Orthodox churches: when one of the spouses embraces another confession.

- For the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches: when the other spouse is exposed to physical or psychological risks.

- For the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Evangelical churches: when married life becomes difficult.

- For the Catholic church: upon teaching children non catholic values.

- For the Armenian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches: in case of adultery. - For the Armenian Orthodox church: when one of the spouses avoids marital obligations, is absent from home or suffers from dementia.

- For the Syriac Orthodox church: when one of the spouses is subjecting the other to corruption, or when the spouse refuses to follow her husband or when the husband is involved in the wife’s coming “contrarily to nature”, as provided for in the text.

The texts of the Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches provide for the possibility of separation for another reason left to the Court’s discretion.

For the Catholic church, separation is final in case of adultery.

- For the Catholic church: the Court designates this duration.

- For the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches: for three years.

- For the Evangelical church: a time period varying between no less than two years and no more than five years.

Where the husband causes separation, he shall:

- Pay alimony for the wife and kids
- Provide a legal accommodation or equivalent to the spouse and kids as adequate to his condition.

Where the wife committed the offense resulting in separation, the consequences shall be:

- Her right to alimony becomes extinct
- Her right to intercourse with her husband becomes extinct

According to the Catholic church, married life should resume when the reason behind the separation is terminated unless the religious authority decides otherwise.

For the Syriac Orthodox church, in addition to the above, where the wife is found “dissonant”, the Court may require from her to pay her husband a monthly alimony which is the equivalent of a monthly salary paid to a domestic worker.

Yes, you may however in specific cases, namely:

- The husband neglects his wife for three consecutive years, whether he is absent from home or living therein.

- The husband is absent and his whereabouts are unknown for five years, which is proven before Court, unless in exceptional cases of force majeure.

For the Catholic church, the aforementioned reasons are not taken into account. Other reasons should be found as detailed under Chapter 6.

Yes they may. However, this agreement shall only enter into force or take effect after its validation by the competent religious court.
Chapter six | Divorce, Dissolution, Annulment

Annulment: Marriage is annulled when it is contracted on undeclared grounds that validate its annulment or when it is concluded in concomitance with prenuptial circumstances and causes that make him null.

Dissolution: Marriage is valid at start, however it is dissolved where, after its conclusion, reasons are found and established by the law to justify its dissolution.

The waiting period forbids spouses whose marriage is terminated from entering into a second marriage until the elapse of a specific period of time unless it is proven that the wife is not pregnant.

The waiting is as follows:

- For the Greek Orthodox and Assyrian Orthodox churches: 4 months.

- For the Armenian Orthodox church: 300 days.

- For the Syriac Orthodox church: 40 days for men and 10 months for women.

- For the Evangelical church: 3 months.

The waiting period does not apply to Catholics.

This is applicable before First Instance Courts, as for the Courts of Appeal, it is compulsory to hire a lawyer except for Catholics.
A wife may leave the marital home when the life’s couple becomes unbearable or when her stay at home puts her life and the life of the kids at risk.
A woman must, upon leaving her marital home, file penal proceedings if her husband inflicted upon her physical harm prior to her departure or may initiate separation proceedings or dissolution proceedings before the relevant religious court.
Chapter eight | Cohabitation proceedings
They are proceedings initiated by one of the spouses when a marital disagreement arises and forces one of the two to leave the marital home and aimed at compelling the departing spouse to cohabitate.
Where a spouse refuses to comply with a verdict to cohabitate with her husband, she is considered “dissonant” and therefore loses her right to alimony and her right to claim for alimony for as long as she is dissonant. For some Christian communities, she even loses her right to custody.