Marriage and divorce in a customary setting

 3,181 total views,  2 views today

brideprice_1430311-1024x615We received an email yesterday from a fan about the “Brangelina” divorce.  Yes, the divorce that has exploded on the internet since yesterday.  This was quite a bizarre topic to raise considering that we really have no interest in discussing “Hollywood” type stories because of their relevance, or rather lack of it, to Skerah.  But the email was an interesting one as we found out.

“Skerah, if a couple were married through custom what would the divorce turn out like” the email read.

For starters, any fall out in marriages isn’t pretty.  But the interesting point about this email was about customary marriages and divorces.

It’s quite complicated in a Papua New Guinea setting considering the many traditional and cultural differences here so it’s difficult to provide a view that’s unified.  So it’s not really a case of, using Beyonce’s hit single “put a ring on it” situation where marriages are official.

Nevertheless, the issue is an interesting one to consider.

Customary marriages are recognised in Papua New Guinea law.  Each custom has its own way of approving and dissolving marriages but there really isn’t anything in black and white so to speak.  Some customs recognise a marriage as “official” on the payment of bride price or some other form of payment (doesn’t have to be the groom).

So what happens when there is a marriage breakdown and a divorce is inevitable? How does one approach a divorce in a customary marriage or generally a customary setting?

In some cultures in Papua New Guinea, if the wife leaves the house with the children and all her belongings the marriage officially ends. At exactly what point the marriage ends is a little uncertain considering the likelihood that the woman could return after being convinced back by the husband or the husband’s relatives.

For a couple that have children, the issue becomes even more complicated.

In some cultures in Papua New Guinea, the payment of bride price is a determining factor of who “owns” or takes care of the children.  A man who pays bride price to his wife becomes the “owner” of the children.  If the marriage is dissolved (traditionally) the husband takes “custody” of the children.  Likewise, if bride price hasn’t been paid by the husband, the wife takes custody of the children.

We’d like to know what the situation is in your culture in a divorce kind of situation.  Email us on