Supreme Court lifts freeze on marriage certificate

Guidelines for marriage between Bhutanese and foreigners framed 

MC: The Supreme Court Chief Justice Tshering Wangchuk yesterday directed the High Court to start processing Marriage Certificates (MC) for Bhutanese married to foreigners starting November 4 this year.

The High Court is directed to thoroughly scrutinise all documents and relevant laws before processing the applications and to give preference to those couples with children.

The decision comes about five years after a moratorium on the issuance of MCs was put in place for want of proper guidelines. Since then, more than 600 applications for MCs have remained pending at the High Court.

In terms of nationality, the highest number of applications at 397 is from those married to Indians followed by 43 who are married to Tibetans and 25 with Americans.

marriage

“In the absence of proper guidelines, the issuance of MC between a Bhutanese and a foreigner was temporarily kept in abeyance due to issues connected with marriage of convenience,” the Supreme Court press release stated.

According to the judiciary, a marriage of convenience is one where marriage is contracted for immigration advantage and other purposes by a couple who are not in a genuine relationship.

With the detailed guidelines for marriage between a Bhutanese and a foreigner in place, judiciary officials said that the Marriage Act would now be strictly enforced and no requests or recommendations would be considered.

As per the guidelines, a panel of three justices chaired by the Chief Justice of the High Court will conduct interviews of the couples to prevent marriage of convenience.

The interview will among others broadly test the foreign spouse’s understanding of Bhutanese tradition and customs and Bhutan history.

“In the event suspicion arises that a marriage is not genuine, the panel may also question couples separately,” the press release states. “If any instances of fraud being involved are brought to light in the process, the applicants shall be subject to criminal prosecution in accordance with the relevant laws.”

Kha 2-2 of the Marriage Act, 1980, states, “A non-Bhutanese wife or husband of a Bhutanese citizen intending to acquire a Bhutanese citizenship or to take up domicile in the Kingdom of Bhutan shall have to adopt the traditional customs and rituals of the country as laid down in the Citizenship Act and the rules promulgated by the government from time to time.”

According to the Marriage Act, among others, a Bhutanese marrying a foreigner would be restricted for employment in the foreign and defense services.  The Bhutanese spouse would also be restricted from enjoying privileges such as land kidu, cash loans, medical treatment in foreign countries, seeds for fields and land and capital for workshops, trade and industries.

Enjoying the privileges of studies and training under government sponsorship such as aided expenses would also be restricted to Bhutanese who marry a foreigner and will be asked to refund the expenses, according to the Act.

The judiciary has also introduced a separate MC application form for Bhutanese married to foreigners. Along with the form, the guidelines requires an applicant to submit 13 other documents, which among others include a copy of a single status certificate issued to the foreign spouse by his/her respective public notary office.

The single status certificate is required as proof that the foreigner spouse is not married in his/her country.

Once the High Court approves an MC application, the applicants must appear in person, with their respective sureties, before the court of jurisdiction, which is the dzongkhag court where the Bhutanese spouse’s census is registered.

The press release stated that parties whose MC applications are pending with the High Court should check the list of documents and other requirements in the guidelines and ensure that their applications are duly completed within a year from the date of announcement. Details of the procedure and checklists can be accessed from the judiciary’s website, www.judicary.gov.bt

“Failure to comply with the above will result in dismissal of the application,” the press release stated. “However, the applicants may re-register themselves with the complete list of documents after a lapse of one year.”

Judiciary officials also pointed out that availing MCs for a marriage of convenience, even among the Bhutanese, such as to travel to Australia, makes a mockery of the judiciary system and if the judiciary finds out such instances, the parties would be penalised on their return to the country.

Sonam Pelden 

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