15 Basic Facts That Everyone Must Know About “Court” Marriage

Is your marriage “court” marriage or Islamic marriage or customary marriage or a combination of two types? As simple as that question is, I will not be surprised if some people don’t know the type of marriage they are into or unsure of its type. Some will call theirs Christian marriage or church marriage, while some others will simply say legal marriage as if the marriage of another person who did his or hers in an Islamic or traditional way is illegal. There is no illegal marriage, anyway except it is a same-sex marriage which is even a crime in Nigeria.

Before I proceed further, let me quickly say that it is incorrect to call a marriage celebrated in a registry or church or any other place of worship “court” marriage. It is more legally correct to refer to it as statutory marriage or marriage under the Act. This marriage is usually celebrated either in a place of worship or marriage registry before a marriage registrar. So, if it is allowed to name this type of marriage after its usual venue of celebrations, it should rather be named registry marriage and not court marriage.

By now, I expect some people to be surer of the type of marriage they are into but if, in case, you are still uncertain, I provide more clues. If, in the course of preparing for your marriage celebration, you or your partner visited a marriage registry within the premises of a local government secretariat, it is most likely the type of marriage you have is a statutory marriage which many people ignorantly call court, church, Christian, legal marriage, white wedding or what have you. It doesn’t change the type of your marriage, if you or your partner only obtained some forms and placed a notice of marriage at the marriage registry at the end of which the marriage was celebrated in your place of worship. It is still a statutory marriage because, as said earlier, it could be celebrated in a place of worship or marriage registry but MARRIAGE REGISTRY MUST HAVE SOME INPUT IN YOUR MARRIAGE CELEBRATION. So, what this means is that if you or your partner never visited a marriage registry at all before your marriage celebration in a place of worship, your marriage is therefore not a statutory marriage. It could be a customary marriage or no marriage at all even if your relationship has produced some children.

The information you find below has to do with statutory marriage.

1. It is a monogamous marriage, that is, one man and one woman for life. Once a man/woman enters into this marriage, he/she cannot marry another person in the lifetime of the first spouse unless the first marriage is dissolved. Anybody who does so commits an offence called bigamy.

2.  It is not only meant for the Christians. Anybody, whether a believer of any faith or a person who doesn’t believe in any religion at all, can enter into it.

3. Upon the celebration of this marriage, marriage certificate must be given to the couple, whether celebrated in a place of worship or marriage registry. But if celebrated in a place of worship, such place must be licenced to conduct a wedding and its marriage certificate must be the same type issued at the registry.

4.  It can’t be celebrated by proxy, meaning that each party to the marriage must be physically present to say “I do” and also to sign the marriage certificate.

5. Its celebration may be presided over by a religious priest in a place of worship or a marriage registrar in a marriage registry.

6. The law governing this marriage is Marriage Act.

7. Anybody of 21 years of age can enter into this marriage. It is an offence to marry a person under 21 years of age except with parental consent.

8. Once parties are of the required age, parental consent to the celebration of such marriage is not compulsory.

9. Payment of bride price is not a requirement in the celebration of this marriage.

10.  It can’t be dissolved at the whims and caprices of any party to it. Any party who wants to opt out of it must give a reason or reasons in a court of law. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act, the bases by which a court may dissolve a marriage are, if any of the spouses initiates a case for its dissolution:

i. lack of consummation – this happens if one of the parties refuses to let sexual intercourse take place after a marriage celebration.
ii. adultery – if a spouse commits an act of adultery, an aggrieved spouse may initiate a case for the dissolution of their marriage, provided there is evidence to prove the adultery.
iii. unreasonable behaviour – a marriage may be dissolved if a spouse alleges that the other spouse has committed some acts of unreasonable behaviour e.g. domestic violence or drunkenness.
iv. desertion – a marriage may be dissolved if a spouse leaves the matrimonial home without the consent of the other spouse and has also refused to return. A divorce case may be filed by the aggrieved spouse after at least a year of desertion.
v. living apart for two years – if parties to a marriage start living apart for two years, any one of them may file for divorce.
vi. living apart for three years - if parties to a marriage start living apart for three years, any one of them may file for divorce. In this case, once it is established that they have been living apart for three years, a court is bound to dissolve such marriage even if one of them objects to the dissolution.
vii. failure to reconcile – if established that, in spite of prior resolution of marital conflict, a couple can’t continue relationship as husband and wife, a divorce suit will succeed.
viii. presumption of death - if a spouse disappears and is not seen for seven years, it will be presumed that such spouse is dead and a court is bound to grant dissolution of a marriage on that basis.

11. The only court of law that can dissolve it is a State High Court and not a Customary Court.

12. Any State High Court can dissolve it, irrespective of where a couple or a spouse resides, unless one of them objects to the jurisdiction of such court on account of inconvenience for reason of distance to his/her place of abode. For instance, if a couple live in Lagos, they may file their divorce case in Lagos or any other States in Nigeria.

13. Two people who have previously divorced themselves can still re-marry themselves, if they so wish.

14. No matter how old a marriage is, it may be dissolved at anytime if the parties to it so wish.

15. A woman may continue using her former husband’s name after divorce, unless it is proved that she is using the name to commit fraud or any other wrongful act.