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The 1986 Law On Marriage, Parental Responsibility, And Divorce

The National Assembly passed the second major piece of legislation regarding marriage on December 29, 1986. The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family, consisting of ten chapters and fifty-seven articles, is far more detailed than the 1959 law it replaced. Chapters I through III stipulate who may or may not marry, what are the specific obligations of married partners, and what rights and responsibilities they may have as a married couple. Men cannot marry until age twenty; women cannot marry until age eighteen. Cohabitation is illegal. Vietnamese from different ethnic or religious groups are permitted to intermarry, and those who are mentally ill, have a venereal disease, or are blood relatives, are prohibited from doing so.

With respect to obligations, married couples are required to abide by Vietnam's two-child family policy ("Husband and wife shall have the obligation to implement family planning") to raise their children in a wholesome manner ("a duty to make their children useful to society"), and to not ill treat spouses, children, or parents (The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family, Chapter I, Articles 2 and 4).

A more interesting component of the 1986 code is found in Chapter IV, Article 27, which identifies intergenerational responsibilities within families. "Grandparents shall be bound to support and educate under-age grandchildren if they become orphans" (The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family, Chapter IV, Article 27). Similarly, adult grandchildren have a duty to support their grandparents if the latter have no surviving children. Primarily because of decades of war, concern for orphans and isolated elderly runs deep in Vietnamese society.

Perhaps in anticipation of a problem in the future, the 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family includes a fairly lengthy chapter on divorce law. No-fault divorce is not possible; couples must document efforts to reconcile their differences and, to protect pregnant women, husbands cannot file for divorce until one year after the birth of the child. With respect to custody issues, Vietnamese law fluctuates between the "best interest of the child" on one hand and "the tender years' doctrine" on the other. Much depends on the age of the child. That is, nursing infants are consigned to the care of their mothers (the tender years' doctrine). The fate of older children is determined by the best interests of the child test.

The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family was a direct response to, and coincided with, the major economic reforms that were converting the nation from state-sponsored socialism to free-market capitalism. To keep pace with major economic and social changes, specific laws were passed to clarify the obligations and responsibilities of married partners, identify specific responsibilities of parenthood, and reform existing divorce laws. What remained an unknown, however, was the extent to which these marriage reforms had an impact on Vietnamese families. This concern produced the 1994 Decree on Marriage and the Family.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsVietnam - Gender Equity And The Marriage And Family Law Of 1959, The 1986 Law On Marriage, Parental Responsibility, And Divorce