Sin Sod: The Cultural and the Legal Misunderstanding of Engagement in Thailand
A misunderstanding of a Thai marriage custom nearly broke up the relationship between my clients. I represented an American in his application for a fiancée visa for his Thai fiancée. After successfully obtaining a visa, the Thai fiancée requested 200,000 baht for her family before she goes to the United States to get married. The American became outraged and contacted me to cancel the visa for the fiancée.
My client did not understand the Thai concept of Sin Sod or a “dowry”. Sin Sod is a Thai tradition that means different things to different families. Traditionally, a Sin Sod represents the value that the future husband places on the daughter of a family. It is negotiated between the future husband and the future wife’s parents. The amount provided by the future husband is a representation that he has the ability to financially support the daughter.
For some women who come from poor families, the loss of the daughter also represents the loss of someone who helps to financially support the family. For women from wealthy and educated families, the Sin Sod represents the ability of the future husband to maintain the social status of their daughter. Depending on the family’s financial situation, the family may choose to return the Sin Sod back to the couple to start their new life together. For women with families in the rural parts of Thailand, there is generally no expectation that the Sin Sod will be returned after the marriage.
The tradition of Sin Sod is covered in Thai law. Section 1437 to 1447 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code outlines the legal aspects of Sin Sod and Khongman (gifts to the Thai fiancée for agreeing to marry). Under Thai law, an engagement is not valid until the man gives or transfer property to the woman in anticipation of the marriage.
An accepted engagement does not force the woman or the man to marry each other.There cannot be an agreement for one party to pay a penalty if the marriage does not occur.However, if the woman causes the marriage to not take place, the man can legally request the return of the Khongman from the woman and Sin Sod from her family. If the man causes the marriage to not occur, then the woman can keep the Khongman and the family can keep the Sin Sod.
An engagement is not legally required for marriage. However once an engagement has taken place, if one party breaches the engagement the breaching party is liable to compensate the non-breaching party for compensation resulting from the breach. The compensation can include injury to the non-breaching party’s reputation, expenses incurred in anticipation of the marriage, and damages suffered to their earning expectation in anticipation of the marriage. There is no breach if one party has passed away.
Love is blind. When two people decide that they want to be together in marriage, the cultural and family differences are revealed. The relationship is no longer about two people but about family, society, and the law. It is important to avoid the misconception and emotional outbursts when presented with a cultural conflict during the meeting with a Thai fiancée family. Learn about Thai traditions before getting deciding to get married. Misunderstanding Thai culture and customs can lead to the breakup of a relationship.
My client’s anger subsided that I informed him about the tradition of Sin Sod. He felt very sorry for his words and actions toward his fiancée and her family. He apologized and the couple is currently in the United States about to get married.
By Mr. Yutthachai Sangsirisap and Robert Virasin
Mr. Robert R. Virasin is a licensed U.S. Attorney and managing director of Virasin & Partners. Mr. Yutthachai Sangsirisap is a licensed Thai Attorney at Virasin & Partners. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.virasin.com.
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