Turkish Family Law in Context


The modern Turkish family law dates back to the Family Law Act of 1917 (Hukuku Aile Kararnamesi), adopted in the Ottoman Empire. It was the first codification of Muslim family law. The act was based on the sharīʻa provisions of all four legal schools of fikh.  The Act was valid in Syria until 1953, in Jordan until 1951.

The Lausanne Peace Treaty of July 24, 1923, which marked the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of a new Turkish state, imposed an obligation in Art. 42 to reorganize the legal and judicial systems. The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on October 29, 1923. In 1924, the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey was declared, proclaiming the equality of men and women, but this provision could not be implemented in practice while Muslim family law was applicable and religious courts were functioning.

In the process of the Westernization of the entire legal system of the newly founded Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was guided by the laws of European countries, in particular, by the Italian Penal Code, the French Administrative Code, and the Swiss Civil Code of 1907. The Swiss Civil Code of 1907 was the most modern code of all European civil codes in force at the time, it was drafted in understandable (French) language, and Switzerland remained neutral in the First World War.

Thus, in 1926, as a result of the reception (iktibas) of the Civil Code of Switzerland, the Civil Code of Turkey was adopted. The adoption of the Civil Code and the reform of the judicial system (the abolition of religious courts in 1924) put an end to the Millet system of the Ottoman Empire: the Turkish Republic has one Civil Code and one judicial system for all Turkish citizens, regardless of their confession.

In 1934, the Family Name Act (Soy Adı Kanunu) and the Regulations about surnames (Soy Adı Nizamnamesi) came into force, contributing to the consolidation of the Turkish nation by creating a uniform anthroponomical system.

Efforts to update the Civil Code had been unsuccessfully going on for a number of decades. Thus, the Turkish Civil Code of 1926 was valid with amendments and modifications until January 1, 2002, when the new Turkish Civil Code came into force (Türk Medeni Kanunu – hereinafter referred to as TCC). Each article of the TCC refers to the corresponding article of the Swiss Civil Code, and the term “Turkish-Swiss law” is in active use among Turkish legal doctrines. Family courts were established in 2003, competent to hear family law disputes and the recognition of foreign court decisions on family law in Turkey.


 Marriage is preceded by an engagement (Nişanlanma). In Muslim family law, engagement is referred to as “hitba” (hıtbe), in the customary law of the Turks “to be engaged” is “söz vermek”, “söz kesmek”.

Different views exist  of the legal nature of engagement. If an engagement is a contract then Art. 22 of the Law of Obligations is applicable. Pthers argue that an engagement is a family law contract sui generis.

The TCC does not stipulate the form of the engagement. The decision of the Supreme Court of Turkey on November 24, 1998, clarifies that engagement occurs when a woman and a man wanting to marry express such a desire, in accordance with customs (örf ve âdete uygun). The engagement may be done in writing, in oral form, or by performing concludent actions (for example, giving a very expensive gift to a woman, meeting her relatives as a groom, etc.)[1].


The TCC 1926 abolished polygamy, introduced the official (secular) marriage (resmi nikah), made men and women equal in rights to divorce, and subjected divorce to court rulings on specified grounds. Articles 135-144 of the TCC contain the material and formal conditions of marriage. The age of marriage is 17 years.

Impediments to marriage are:

1) Kinship. Marriage is forbidden between:

  • ascendants,
  • brothers and sisters, between uncle and niece and aunt and nephew,
  • the adopter and the adopted and their relatives.

2) Until the dissolution of the previous marriage a person cannot enter into a marriage;

3) Mental illness;

4) A woman cannot remarry until three hundred days have passed since the date of termination of the previous marriage.

The marriage price (başlık) is not a legal condition of marriage, but in some regions the payment of the marriage money is very common (in Eastern Anatolia – 42.8%, in the Aegean region – 6.5%).

The population of Turkey is very heterogeneous, and there is a contrast between the social and economic structures in the eastern regions and western regions. The lifestyle differences between rural and urban areas are striking.    Marriage between cousins is common in Turkey – its average rate being about 25%.  However, since 1980 there has been a campaign against consanguineous marriages. Consanguinity rates in Turkey vary from 17.5% in the Aegean region to 42.6% in Southeast Anatolia[2]. Other forms of marriage are levirate and sororat marriages, marriage between the children of a widowed man and a widowed woman (taygeldi), blood price, and berder which is when two men marry each other’s sisters[3].

Marriage ceremony 

 Persons wishing to marry submit an application, an extract from the family registry, and a medical certificate. A foreign bride must present a marital status certificate (certificat de capacité matrimonial).

The marriage can be registered by the following people:

– an official of the General Directorate of Population;

– a Mayor;

– a village headman (mouhtar);

– a Mufti, an official of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) – since October 2017.

Newlyweds receive a marriage certificate (aile cüzdanı) and the marriage registration is completed in the civil acts register.

Only after having received a marriage certificate, can the spouses have a religious marriage (dini nikah, imam nikahi) – art. 143 TCC.

In accordance with a study conducted in 2003, the following data was highlighted: exclusively religious marriage in 1968 was concluded by 15% of the population, in 1978 by 12% of the population, in 1988 by 8% of the population, in 1998 by 7% of the population, and in 2003 by 5.8 % of the population. Depending on the level of well-being, the following picture emerges: 15% of poor families, 4% of middle-income families, and 1% of wealthy families enter into a religious marriage. In 2018, exclusively religious marriage was concluded by 1.1%, and exclusively official marriage was concluded by 1.8%. The overwhelming majority of those entering into marriage hold two ceremonies — official and religious ones — 97.1%.

One of the factors determining the “vitality” of a religious marriage is the convenience of divorce for a husband, since a religious marriage can be dissolved unilaterally (talak). The big problem is the status of children born in a religious marriage. Children were considered illegitimate for official authorities, but legitimate for the population. So-called ‘Amnesty laws’ had to be passed by the Turkish government several times allowing for the retrospective legalization of marriages and children by registering them in the civil status registry.

Decision of the Constitutional Court

Decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey No. 2015.51 dated May 27, 2015 revolves around Art. 230 of the Turkish Criminal Code, which  criminalised the person  performing religious marriage  without civil marriage having  taken place first, as well as the couple. The Constitutional  Court found the contested article contradictory to the principle of proportionality. 

Does a religious marriage entail any rights and obligations?

The European Court of Human Rights provided an answer to this question in the case of Serife Yiğit v. Turkey. The applicant, the mother of five children, could not receive a pension for the loss of a man with whom she had lived in a religious marriage for 26 years. “Taking into account the importance of the principle of secularism in Turkey” the Court accepts that the difference in treatment between civil and non-civil marriages pursued the legitimate aims of protecting public order and protecting the rights and freedoms of others, namely women.

The court concluded that Turkish legislation, which did not give the right to a retirement pension, did not contradict either Article 8 of the Convention or Article 14 of the Convention.

Maternal and Paternal Filiation

Maternal filiation is established through the birth of a child by a particular woman. Paternal filiation is established as a result of the marriage of the man with the mother of a child if the child is born while the spouses are married or within 300 days after the dissolution of the marriage – Article 285 of the TCC.

If a child is born out of wedlock paternal filiation is established through the declaration of a man who may – submit an application to a court, civil registry, state his declaration in his will or a document authenticated by a notary (Art. 295 TCC). These provisions are very important as paternal filiation relates to cases when a child is born in a religious marriage.

Parental custody of the child

Parental custody of a child is referred to by a term from the Muslim family law – velayet.  It is regulated by Art. 335-363 of the TCC.   Parental custody arises due to the fact of the birth of a child or as a result of a court decision granting the right of parental custody to a third party (guardian – vasi).

The TCC does not define parental custody, but Art. 339 lists the constituent elements of this notion which are:

  • child care and education;
  • property management;
  • legal representation;
  • maintaining the welfare of the child before third parties.

In the old TCC Art. 267 the right recognized for the child’s parents to physical punishment (tedip hakki). In the Swiss Civil Code, the concept of custody of a child also includes the right to his physical punishment, although a special article (Article 278) was excluded as a result of the 1976 reform. However, Article 389 of the TCC has a special provision that the child must be obedient to his parents (Çocuk ana ve babasının sözünü dinlemekle yükümlüdür). A child cannot leave the family home without the consent of his parents.

The notion of ‘benefit of the child’ (cocuğun yararı) is the criterion for exercising custody over the child. As noted in the doctrine, the concept of “the benefit of the child” includes taking care of his physical, sexual and moral development, as well as taking care of his social, legal and economic status.

The recommended model for the upbringing and education of a child necessarily includes religious education – article 340 of the TCC.

According to Article 366 of the TCC, the right of parental custody (velayet) during marriage belongs jointly to the mother and father of the child. Art. 337.1 states that if the parents of the child are not married, the right of parental custody belongs to the mother of the child. This is one of the important innovations in the new TCC.  The court may appoint a guardian (vasi) only if the mother is a minor or incapacitated.

 In case of dissolution of the marriage or separation of the spouses, parental custody is attributed to one of the parents of the child.  The opinion of the child can be considered in view of his age. Brothers and sisters are not to be separated. The family judge focuses on the benefit of the child. The Supreme Court emphasized in this regard, that “a young child needs care and affection of the mother”, and only if she cannot take proper care of him, then the right of parental custody goes to his father.

It should be emphasized that Turkish family law, like Swiss family law before the 2000 reform, does not recognize joint parental custody of a child.

Right to a personal relationship

The other parent, who is not invested with parental custody, has the right to a personal relationship (kişisel ilişki hakkı) with the child. This is regulated by Art. 323-326 of the TCC. The right to a personal relationship includes the right to have contact with the child, and the right to receive information about his life, etc.

Persons entitled to have the right to a personal relationship with the child, are understood by judicial practice to be a fairly wide range of persons: his/her brothers, sisters, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, nurse, stepmother, stepfather, and similar persons.

The parent not invested with parental custody must contribute to the expenses of raising the child in proportion to his financial means (alimony).

Deprivation of parental custody of the child

Art. 348 of the TCC enlists the grounds for depriving parental custody (Disease of parents, abandonment of a child, etc.). Art. 53 of the Turkish Penal Code establishes that a person convicted of a criminal offense of more than five years in prison is deprived of parental custody for the term of his imprisonment.

 The circle of persons who have the right to file a claim for deprivation of the right to parental care is practically unlimited. Since the well-being of a child affects public order, in the event of a threat to the physical and moral development of the child, any person (relatives of the child, family friends, neighbours) has the right to apply to the court asking for measures to protect the child[5].

Matrimonial property regime 

Under the 1926 TCC separation of property was the statutory matrimonial property regime. However, following the Swiss approach, the 2002 TCC laid down ‘participation in acquisitions’  as a statutory matrimonial property regime. The other three matrimonial property regimes are separation of property, community of property and shared separation. They are open through marriage property contracts. “Participation in acquisition” includes all goods acquired by spouses during marriage (art. 219).


Turkish divorce law on the whole retains the basic principles laid down in the Civil Code of 1926, with the amendments made in 1998. It provides for the possibility of divorce by mutual consent and divorce in the case of a three-year separation of the spouses after a court refusal to dissolve the marriage.

The following categories of grounds for divorce are distinguished in the doctrine:

1) general and special grounds for divorce;

2)  absolute and relative grounds for divorce,

1) General and special grounds for divorce (genel ve özel sebepleri):

Special grounds for divorce are listed in Articles 161-165 of the TGC:

– adultery (which was criminally punishable until 2004);

– actions that constitute cruel treatment, a threat to life, or actions defaming the honor and dignity of a spouse;

– the commission of a crime and a vicious lifestyle;

– abandonment of a spouse;

– incurable mental illness.

Art. 166 TC C lists three general grounds:

– the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage;

– mutual consent of the spouses who must have been married for at least one year, and agree on all relevant matters (parental custody of children, division of property, alimony). The spouses draft a so-called divorce plan (boşanma protokolu), which is submitted to the court simultaneously with the filing of a divorce suit;

– Separation for three years after the court’s refusal to dissolve the marriage on one of the specified grounds.

2) Absolute and relative grounds for divorce (mutlak ve nispi sebepleri).

In contrast to the divorce law of many other states, in which there was a gradual transition from the model of “divorce – sanction ” to the model of “divorce – statement of fact” (in Switzerland as a result of the 2000 reform), the concept of “guilt” ( kusur) is very important for Turkish divorce law. The guilty spouse pays moral, material compensation, alimony to the injured, “innocent” spouse. Depending on the criterion of the guilt of the spouse, there are absolute and relative grounds for the dissolution of the marriage. Absolute grounds are adultery, abandonement of  a spouse, mistreatment, and mutual consent to a divorce. Relative grounds are the mental illness of one of the spouses, the shaking of the foundations of marriage, the commission of a crime and the conduct of a vicious lifestyle.

Grounds for divorce[6]

2014 г. Irretrievable breakdown Abandon Vicious lifestyle Adultery Mental illness Cruel treatment Other (consensual divorce) Other  (separation)
126.732 200 31 107 61 36 2.466 128

Maintenance obligations (nafaka)  

In Turkish family law, there are several kinds of alimony obligations. These are:

  • alimony for the upbringing of the child (İştirak nafakası) (Art. 182 TCC);
  • alimony for the needy former spouse (yoksulluk nafakası) – (Art. 175 TCC);
  • alimony between ascending and descending relatives, between brothers and sisters (yardım nafakasi) Art. 364 TCC.

The amount of alimony is determined by the judge in proportion to financial means of a debtor.

1980 and 1996 Hague Conventions

Turkey joined the 1980 Hague Convention in 2000.  Implementing Law – Law No. 5717 on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction dated November 22, 2007. The 1980 Convention entered into force between Russia and Turkey in August 2017. Up to now, there has been no court decision for the return of a child to Turkey from Russia. The central  authority  is the Ministry of Justice of Turkey, the Department of International Law and International Relations.

[1] Abik Y.  Nişanlanma  ve Nişanlilik // AÜHFD  2005 available at:  http://dergiler.ankara.edu.tr/dergiler/38/273/2474.pdf.  P. 69

[2] https://www.dogrulukpayi.com/fotograf-galerisi/evlilik-istatistikleri-turkiye-nin-yalnizca-1-8-dini-nikah-kiydirmadan-sadece-resmi-nikah-kiydiriyor/5

[3] Poyraz Tacoğlu Tuğça, ‘Türkiye’de  Gerçekleştirilen Geleneksel Evlilik çeşitlerinin Nedenleri ve Evlilikler üzerinde Törenin Etkisi’//ODÜ Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Sosyal Bilimler Aratırmaları Dergisi, December 2011 issue 4 available at: http://sobiad.odu.edu.tr/files/cilt2/cilt2sayi4pdf/poyraz_tacoglu_tugca.pdf. P. 117-118.

[4] http://www.constitutionalcourt.gov.tr/inlinepages/leadingjudgements/ConstitutionalityReview/judgment/2015-51.pdf

[5] Çelik Cemil, Velayetin kaldırılması// AÜHFD 2004 availabe at: http://dergiler.ankara.edu.tr/dergiler/38/274/2487.pdf.  P. 261

[6]Ozdemir Saibe Oktay, Türk Hukukunda Boşanma Sisteminde Revizion Ihtiyaçi//Public and Private International Law Bulletin No35 issue 1, available at: http://dergipark.gov.tr/download/article-file/410998 P. 34.

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