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Betrothal is a formal state of engagement to be married. Historically betrothal was a formal contract, blessed or officiated by a religious authority. Betrothal is no longer common beyond some Arabic cultures, and both Orthodox and Messianic Jews.

Typical steps of a betrothal were:

The exact duration of a betrothal varies according to culture and the participants needs and wishes, but may be anywhere from several hours (when the betrothal is incorporated into the wedding day itself) to a period of a year and a day (which is common in neo-pagan groups today).

The responsibilities and privileges of betrothal vary. In most cultures the betrothed couple are expected to spend much time together, learning about each other. In some historical cultures (including colonial North America) the betrothal was essentially a trial marriage, with marriage only being required in cases of conception of a child. In almost all cultures there is a loosening of restrictions against physical contact between partners, even in cultures which would normally otherwise have a strong prohibition against it. The betrothal period was also considered to be a preparatory time, in which the groom would build a house, start a business or otherwise prove his readiness to enter adult society.

A betrothal is considered to be a 'semi-binding' contract. Normal reasons for invalidation of a betrothal include:

Normally a betrothal can also be broken at the behest of either party, though some financial penalty (such as forfeit of the bride price) usually will apply.