It is accepted universally that marriage is a union between two people who has agreed to live together to the exclusion of others. In Nigeria today, two types of marriages are recognised to wit; polygamous marriage and monogamous marriage. However this write up will be restricted to monogamous marriage.
There are basically two laws regulating marriage under the Act in Nigeria and they includes the Matrimonial causes Act 2004 and the Marriage Act 2004. It is important to note that it is only Monogamous Marriage that can be conducted under the marriage Act as provided for under section 33(1) of the Marriage Act in Nigeria. It is monogamous marriage that was described by Lord Penzance in HYDE V HYDE (1886) LRIP&D 130 as the voluntary union for life of one man one woman to the exclusion of all others.
Over the years people tend to confuse the legal effect of Marriage in a licensed place of worship and Registry Marriage. People tend to think Registry Marriage is the only marriage conducted under the Marriage Act and that Marriage in a licensed place of worship can be dissolved without recourse to the relevant provisions of Matrimonial Causes Act.
Preliminaries to Marriage
It is pertinent to note that for Marriage to be a valid statutory marriage in Nigeria, It must be in accordance with Section 7 to 17 of the Marriage Act. The following are the Preliminaries to marriage which must be complied with before the celebration of such Marriage.
Section 7 of the Marriage Act provides that whenever any persons desire to marry, one of the parties to the intended marriage shall sign and give to the registrar of the district in which the marriage is intended to take place a notice. Section 10 further provides that upon receipt of such notice the registrar shall cause the same to be entered in a book to be called the Marriage Notice Book, He shall also publish such notice by causing a copy of the same to be affixed on the outer door of his office, and to be kept exposed there until he grants his certificate or until three months shall have elapsed.
Section 11 of the Marriage Act further provides that the Registrar, at any time after the expiration of twenty-one days and before the expiration of three months from the date of the notice shall thereupon issue his certificate/License, once all conditions are satisfied such as; one of the parties must have been resident within the district for at least fifteen days preceding the granting of the certificate: the parties are 21 years and above and if otherwise, the requisite consent has been obtained; Lack of impediment of kindred or affinity; neither party is earlier married to a third party.
Marriage Celebration under the Act
After the issuance of the Registrar’s certificate, the couple is bestowed with options as to where to celebrate their marriage, whether at the Registrar’s Office or at a Licensed place of Worship.
Section 21 provides that Marriage may be celebrated in any licensed place of worship by any recognised minister of the Church, denomination or body, however such marriage must be celebrated with open doors between the hours of eight o’clock in the forenoon and six o’clock in the afternoon, and in the presence of two or more witnesses besides the officiating minister. Section 22 further made it mandatory that the Registrar’s Certificate or licence issued by the Registrar must be presented to the Minister before he could conduct the marriage
Section 24, 25 and 26 further provides that the Principal Registrar shall delivered to the recognised ministers of licensed places of worship, books of marriage certificates in duplicate and with counterfoils which the Officiating Minister shall fill up in duplicate a marriage certificate with the particulars required, and enter in the counterfoil the number of the certificate, the date of the marriage, names of the parties, and the names of the witnesses. The certificate (in duplicate) and the counter shall then be signed by the officiating minister, the parties, and by two or more witnesses to the marriage. The minister shall sever the duplicate certificate therefrom, and deliver one certificate to the parties, and shall within seven days thereafter transmit the other to the registrar of marriages for the district in which the marriage takes place, who shall file the same in his office.
Marriage Celebration in Registry
Section 27 provides that after the issue of a certificate or License by the Registrar, the parties/Couple may, if they think fit, contract a marriage before a registrar, in the presence of two witnesses in his office, with open doors, between the hours of ten o’clock in the forenoon and four o’clock in the afternoon
- The registrar shall then fill up, and he and the parties and witnesses shall sign, the certificate of the marriage in duplicate, and the registrar shall then fill up and sign the counterfoil and shall deliver one certificate to the parties and shall file the other in his office.
Over the years there has been a lot of controversy as to the difference or similarity between church marriage in a licenced place of worship and blessing of marriage in a licenced place of worship.
For church marriage in a licenced place of worship, the requirements provided in the Act must be complied with unlike in blessing of marriage where no formal requirement is necessary. What the blessing of marriage does is that it confirms that both parties already have an existing marriage and they have come for blessings. It does not comply with the formalities of a statutory marriage i.e church wedding in a licenced place of worship, caveats, licence, marriage certificate etc.
It is pertinent to note that such blessing of marriage does not ipso facto convert the marriage into a statutory marriage in cases where both parties have been married under customary law, neither does it add anything to the marriage where parties have been married under the act. In NWANGWU v. UBANI (1997) 10 NWLR (Pt. 526) 559 CA the Court of Appeal held that mere celebration of a marriage in a church as was done in the case does not confer statutory flavour to the marriage.
In MARTINS v ADENUGBA (1946) 18 NLR 63 a priest blessed a customary law marriage on 17 September 1942. He issued, in a printed form, a certificate to the parties in respect of that ceremony. It was later contended that there was a valid marriage under the Marriage Act. The court held that the ceremony of the 17th September was merely the blessing of a customary law marriage, and therefore did not constitute a marriage.
Section 34 of the Marriage Act provides that ‘’All marriages celebrated under this Act shall be good and valid in law to all intents and purposes.’’
The legal effect of the above is that, Marriage celebrated in a Licensed place of worship and Registry are Marriages conducted under the Marriage Act and they are legally binding so far all the requirements stipulated are followed. Once the preliminary conditions are complied with, the choice of place to celebrate the Marriage is left to the parties. In addition, both Marriages can only be set aside by following the relevant provision of the Matrimonial Causes Act.
Finally, any ceremony of marriage in a licensed Place of worship which does not conform with the requirements of a valid marriage in a licenced place of worship is simply a blessing of marriage and not recognise as Marriage under the Marriage Act.