Marriage and Adoption

Foreign-related marriage in China

By Zhang Wei (
Updated: 2013-09-05

A marriage in China between a foreigner and a Chinese citizen or between two foreigners is called a "foreign-related marriage". According to Article 147 of the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People's Republic of China, marriage of a Chinese citizen to a foreigner is bound by the law of the country where they marry. Therefore, partners contemplating a foreign-related marriage in China must follow the procedures stipulated by Chinese law. Marriages in China, regardless of the nationality of those involved, are registered according to the laws of China - and diplomats, consular officials or clergy - of any country - do not have the authority to perform marriages in China.

According to the marriage law of the People's Republic of China, marriage registration is administered by the local offices of civil affairs. If one of the partners is a Chinese citizen, the province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government, designates the appropriate marriage registration office - which will be located where the residency (hukou) of the Chinese citizen is registered. If both partners are foreign nationals, they should go to a registration office located in the city where one of them lives or where they both live. Generally speaking, at least one of the partners must reside in China. Two foreign nationals on a temporary visit with tourist visas will not be able to register to marry in China.

According to Chinese law, a foreign national cannot marry a Chinese national who falls within one of the following categories:

(1) military personnel in active service, diplomatic personnel, public security personnel, or any person who possesses important and confidential information

(2) individuals who are receiving reeducation through labor, or serving a sentence.

Partners applying for marriage registration should go to the marriage registration office together, in order to submit all required documents, certificates, and photographs that establish the identity, residential status, as well as the marriageability of each of the partners. All documents in a foreign language must be translated into Chinese, and the authenticity of the translation must be certified by a Chinese notary public – all at the applicants' own expense.

Upon receipt of an application to register a marriage, the marriage registration office will ascertain that both parties have reached legal age (generally 22 for men and 20 for women), and that both parties are single and otherwise free to marry. Individuals who have been married previously must submit original and valid documents of divorce or the former spouse's death certificate. In addition, both partners must also present a pre-marital health check-up report signed and issued by a hospital designated by the marriage registration office. There is also a fee for the registration of a marriage. Upon confirming that the application conforms to the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China and to the required procedures, the registration office gives the applicants the permission to register and complete the registration process within one month. Once the registration is completed, the married couple will receive a marriage certificate.

The General Principles of the Civil Law of the People's Republic of China, Article 147, also set forth the principle that a divorce shall be bound by the law of the place where a court accepts the case. According to the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China,

If both partners of a marriage seek a divorce, they may go to the appropriate marriage registration office to file the registration for divorce. If one of the partners requests a divorce and the other does not agree, the former can then file a divorce suit with the court. However, a marriage registration office cannot register a divorce for a foreign-related marriage - as these must be filed with the court. The Chinese court to accept such a case, which must meet requirements that at least one of the partners of the marriage must either have Chinese residency or be physically present in the territory of the People's Republic of China or have resided continuously in China for at least one year.

If this requirement is met, but the other partner of the marriage resides outside China, the one requesting a divorce may file a divorce suit with the intermediate people's court in the place where he or she lives, or where his or her residency is registered.

Otherwise, if the partner requesting a divorce lives overseas, he or she may file the suit with the intermediate people's court in the place where either the other partner of the marriage lives or that partner's residency is registered.

In the event a couple wishes to resume their marriage in China after divorcing, they must go through the marriage registration procedures as described above.

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