Effects of Marriage under Ethiopian Law


     By Fikadu Asfaw and Associates Law Office

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Law Firm in Addis Ababa: Fikadu Asfaw and Associates Law Office
If you are considering marriage in Ethiopia or want advice for someone who is, here is a short review. Under Ethiopian law, marriage is recognized as such whether celebrated traditionally, religiously or by court according to the law.

It entails for the spouses concerned:

1. personal effects
2. pecuniary effects
3. The right, mutually or through petition, to notify the court of the failure of the marriage and request for a divorce.

1. Personal effects

The law primarily dictates that spouses in a marriage will be respectful and supportive. They owe each other fidelity, with adultery and bigamy being punishable offenses. They are bound to live together in a residence they jointly pick. Household management and expenses arising there from they shall cover in proportion to their respective means. Spouses are legally allowed to live in separate residences when they choose to do so and revoke such agreement by consent. But where they reside separately or together, they shall conclude conjugal relations unless these relations are bad for their health. They shall cooperate to protect the security of the family they have built and ensure the good behavior and education of their children, though a spouse who had children before the coming into of the marriage shall retain exclusive decision rights over them. Where in the administration of the household, if one spouse is absent, under a disability, away, or for any other reason is unable to give his consent, the other spouse shall, alone carry out these duties.

2. Pecuniary effects of a marriage under Ethiopian law

How does getting married affect one’s finances under Ethiopian law? The rights and obligations assigned to the spouses with regard to property can only be fully enumerated after defining the two types of property existent in a marriage; personal and common property. Property existent in a marriage can belong to only one of the spouses if he/ she possessed it on the day of the marriage, if they succeeded into it or it has been donated to them after the marriage, and if they acquire property, after the marriage in exchange for their personal property or money, although property hence acquired shall be notified to the court which shall decide whether it stays personal or is included into the common property.

The remaining types of income and property, specifically all income derived from the personal efforts of the spouses or from their personal property and common property, all property acquired by the spouses during marriage by onerous title or otherwise and property donated or bequeathed to the spouses jointly shall be common property.

Management wise, regarding personal property the spouse is sole owner there of and may, even without consulting the other spouse perform acts of management over it. He/ she may, however, assign the other spouse manager over some or all of his property but such spouse will have to provide periodical reports. Where the income is common, management too is common with the possibility of granting the other spouse management of the whole property in the contract of marriage. Management, including acting on behalf of both spouses; entering into contracts or other transactions, incurring debt, suing or being sued affects the interest of both spouses. The law therefore, makes it mandatory that the spouse solely administering the common property should inform his acts to the other spouse.

In certain exceptional situations such report is mandatory these being:

-Selling, exchanging, and renting out, pledging or mortgaging, alienating or conferring rights to third parties in any way to an immoveable.
-Sale, exchange, pledge or mortgage or in any other way grant third parties rights over an immoveable the value of which exceeds 500 birr.
-Transfer by donation a property or money the value of which exceeds 100 birr.
-Borrow or lend money the value of which exceeds 500 birr.

Where spouses incur debt, depending on the type they shall be expected to pay the debt by themselves, as a couple from their common property or from both their personal and common property. In this regard we see 2 types of debts; debts incurred in the interest of the household and regular debts.

A debt is said to have been incurred in the interest of the household if it is undertaken to fulfill the interests of the household, to fulfill an obligation of maintenance to which both spouses or one of them is bound, or if it is recognized as such by the court at the request of the other spouse or the creditor. All other debts are regarded as regular debts.

Where the debt has been incurred in the interest of the household, the creditor may claim it either/ and from the common property but if that does not exist, it will be taken from the common property. The borrowing spouse shall be solely responsible, however, if in the contract of marriage or in the contract creating the debt it has been stated so.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fikadu Asfaw Law Office
Fikadu Law Office is an Ethiopia law office providing advisory and litigation services to corporate and private clients in Ethiopia and throughout the world. The Law Office is licensed to practice throughout Ethiopia at all level of courts including Federal First Instance Court, Federal High Court, Federal Supreme Court, Cassation Court and any other similar legal tribunals.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.



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