‘Til Death Don’t Us Part: A History Of Ghost Marriage

Published March 22, 2016
Updated February 27, 2024

The idea of marrying a dead person is older than the Magna Carta — and it's called ghost marriage.

Ghost Marriages

Image Source: Pixabay

Imagine a world where “’til death do us part” wasn’t taken literally — where you could be married after death, and even get married after you’d already passed on.

In actuality, there’s no need to imagine. Necrogamy, or marriage that takes place after death, is alive and well today. Though the form and frequency of the practice varies across the globe, the fact remains that in some places, the right to marry never ends, even beyond the grave…

Ghost Marriage In Modern Times

The most prominent, still surviving legal acknowledgment of necrogamy is a French law which dates back to December 31, 1959. The law came following the collapse of the Malpasset Dam, which left one woman’s fiancé dead. Irène Jodart, the grieving bride-to-be, pleaded with the government to let her marry him anyway.

It is unclear whether Jodart’s social capital or the plentiful media coverage of her case swayed the French government, but within a month, Article 171 of the civil code was written. It states that:

“The President of the Republic may, for serious reasons, authorize the solemnization of marriage if one of the spouses died after completion of official formalities marking it unequivocal consent. In this case, the effects of marriage dated back to the day preceding the death of the husband. However, this marriage does not entail any right of intestate succession for the benefit of the surviving spouse and no matrimonial property is deemed to have existed between the spouses.”

Posthumous Marriage France Ghost Marriage

A woman says “I do” to her dearly departed in France. Image Source: Telegraph

In practice, this means that while a living person may marry someone who is dead, they cannot receive any of the deceased’s money or belongings. They can, however, receive a pension and insurance claims, and any children born or in utero at the time of the marriage are considered the deceased’s legitimate child. Otherwise, it is a purely symbolic ceremony, as the living spouse is considered a widow/er at the time of the ceremony.

Some twenty posthumous marriages are conducted every year in France, and there are examples of similar practices in the United States, South Korea, Germany, South Africa, Sudan, and Thailand. In China, however, where ghost marriage was once permitted, the idea of marrying the dead takes on an entirely new angle…

All That's Interesting
Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.