Marriage. Marriage is one of the most significant rites of passage among Chileans. Although inscription of the marriage at the civil register is sufficient for it to be officially recognized under Chilean law, most Chileans find that a wedding is not really complete without a church ceremony. Everyone is free to marry whomever he or she wants, but because Chile is a class-conscious society, people in general marry persons from similar social and educational backgrounds.
Weddings are normally not ostentatious and wedding parties are mostly organized at home or in a small hall near the church. Commonly, Chileans marry young (in their early or mid-twenties) and tend to have children relatively soon after marriage. Only 12 percent of Chilean women are still single at the age of forty-five. People have quite conventional views about premarital sex, and living together before marriage is still relatively rare (only 3 percent of women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four). Because of the considerable religious and political influence of the Roman Catholic Church, Chile is the only country in Latin America without a divorce law. Instead, couples who want to end their marriage request an annulment of the civil marriage, under the pretext that a procedural error was made during the civil marriage ceremony. As this implies a costly legal procedure, many Chileans just informally terminate a marriage, but this bars them from marrying again under Chilean law.
Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is by far the dominant household unit in Chile. Ninety percent of the population lives with their family while only 8.1 percent live alone. Family size has strongly decreased in recent decades. The average family consists of four persons, and the average number of children is 2.5 per woman. Chile is among the countries with the lowest fertility rate in Latin America, and with the most rapid rate of decrease. In most households (79 percent) authority is held by men. Female-led households can mainly be found among low-income sectors. Particularly among the middle and upper classes, housewives possess a large degree of discretional power in decisions concerning the ruling of their homes (including acquisition of furniture and financial matters) and the children's education.
Inheritance. According to Chilean law and customs, when the father passes away half of the estate passes to his wife. The other half is divided by the number of children plus two parts for the mother. So in a family with two children, the mother inherits three-quarters of the estate. Age or gender differences among the children do not alter their rights to equal parts of the inheritance. Until very recently, however, Chilean legislation made a differentiation between "legitimate" (born within the marriage) and "illegitimate" children. Depending on the specific situation, the latter had fewer or no rights for obtaining a part of the estate. In early 2000 this discriminatory legislation was abolished.
Kin Groups. Although the nuclear family constitutes the basis of Chilean households, grandparents continue to exert considerable authority in family affairs. Moreover, and either by necessity or by choice, grandparents (especially widowed grandparents) frequently live with the family of one of their daughters or sons. Married children normally visit their parents over the weekend and it is not uncommon for them to talk with their parents by phone almost daily. Aunts, uncles, and cousins are also considered to be close relatives and they frequently meet at family and social gatherings. Particularly in the lower classes, the extended family represents an indispensable source of support for coping with difficulties in hard times.