3 Steps to a Valid English/Court Marriage. Daily Law Tips (Tip 637) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)
In Nigeria, there are two types of marriages; English Marriage and Customary Marriage. English marriage (Statutory, Court or Registry marriage) is a marriage between one man and a woman in accordance with the federal government laws and policies on marriage. Customary marriage (Traditional, Native, Cultural marriage or Pure religious/church marriage without government notices) is a marriage conducted according to the native law and customs which often allows a man to marry more than one wife. We will be focusing on the 3 steps to conducting a valid English (Statutory/Legal/Court) marriage in any part of Nigeria while examining terms like court marriage, church marriage, traditional marriage and customary marriage, marriage procedures and legality. Click to read my earlier works on Marriage in Nigeria.
English marriage is a union between one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all other persons. It is a sacrosanct union that begets lots of rights, benefits, duties, privileges and responsibility for couples and offspring from such union. To say the least, couples (husbands and wives) are protected from certain criminal charges and responsibilities, their children enjoy exclusive rights of inheritance while native law and customs cannot bind or limit them.
There are laid down procedures and requirements that must be fulfilled before an English marriage can be legal and lawful. The Marriage Act of 1949 governs all valid marriages made in Nigeria or outside Nigeria (among two Nigerians in the Nigerian High Commission). Please note that no other style or method of English marriage that is accepted and legal except that, which is explained below.
The steps to English marriage are essential and sacrosanct. Whether a person wants a Bishop, an Archbishop or a General Overseer to wed him, he must start the process from step 1 and end in step 3. Where there is a missing step, the marriage cannot be a valid English marriage, it may just be a mere church marriage without government notices, legal validity and benefits.
More importantly, the apex court has warned churches and clergies/ministers to desist from wedding couples who have not obtained a Registrar’s Certificate, which empowers them to be wedded for it is an offence punishable with five years imprisonment (section 42 Marriage Act, 1914). A marriage celebrated in an unlicensed place or by an unrecognised minister/clergy of a religious body is null and void, if the couple knowingly and wilfully allowed such celebration of marriage (wedding ceremony).
In STEP 1, prospective couple must give notice of their marriage to the Registrar of marriage in their Local Government Area. The Registrar would in turn register such notice in the “Marriage Notice Book” and equally cause same notice to be published on his door and notice board at the local government office for twenty-one (21) days. During the twenty-one days, the general public is expected to report any reason (make petitions) why the prospective couple should not be wedded.
By STEP 2, where there is no protest from the public to the impending union, at the expiration of 21 days, the Registrar of Marriages shall issue a Registrars’ Certificate to the couple. The certificate empowers the prospective couple to go ahead and celebrate their marriage (exchange of vows) within three months. Such exchange must be done in the public, often in a licensed place of worship (church) and before a recognised minister/clergy of a religious body/denomination. (At that stage, some people refer to such as “church wedding”). Every celebration of marriage in a church must be done between the hours of 8.00 am and 6.00 pm in the presence of at least two witnesses apart from the officiating minister.
Some prospective couples prefer to celebrate their marriages (exchange vows) not in a church rather in the office of the Registrar of marriages, before the Registrar of marriages and a few witnesses. (At that stage, some people refer to such as “Court wedding”). Every celebration of marriage in the office of a Registrar of Marriage, must be between the hours of 10.00 am and 4.00 pm with open doors. In all, the two methods are valid and with the same legal benefits and responsibilities, so far as they start with valid marriage notices in the Marriage Registry (it is a matter of convenience).
However, in special circumstances, the Minister of Internal Affairs may issue a “License to Marry” to a couple which will authorise their celebration of marriage at any place/venue they so desire and without a Registrar’s Certificate but before a recognised clergy or the Registrar of Marriages. This is possibly what some celebrities employ in having their valid marriages in parks, stadiums, boats and other places outside a licensed place of marriage and without waiting/issuing marriage notices.
At STEP 3, after exchange of vows there is signing of marriage certificate by the couple before at least two (2) witnesses and the officiating minister (clergy). Just like any other contract, what has been orally exchanged/declared must be evidenced in writing via a marriage certificate.
The Registrar of marriages sends “books of marriage certificates” in duplicate and with counterfoils to all licensed places of worship. Immediately, after the celebration of a marriage, the officiating clergy must provide the “Book of Marriage Certificates”, fill its form and have same signed by the couple, witnesses and the clergy. The officiating minister must hand over to the couple their marriage certificate while the minister retains a duplicate.
The duplicate copy of a marriage certificate, must be sent to the Registrar of Marriages within seven (7) days after the celebration of marriage. The Registrar of Marriage upon receiving such certificate files it accordingly. Couples are advised to make sure the officiating priest transmits duplicates of their marriage certificates to the Registrar of Marriages for proper filling. This will ensure that whenever a search is conducted in the Marriage Registry, details of couples will be found.
Let it be known to all that all valid marriages starts from step 1 and the certificate obtained in step 1 gives a prospective couple power to embark on step 2. No one can jump step 1 and start his/her marriage by mere celebration of marriage in church. Although, it is not out of place to equally give 21 days notice in the church (marriage ban), such can never substitute the marriage notice which is to be given or done through the Registrar of Marriages in the Marriage Registry. Click to read a detailed work on “How To Be Legally Married in Nigeria”.
- Sections 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35, 39, 42, 46, 47 and 49 of the Marriage Act, 1914.
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