Nigerian Law Forum
One of the many questions that came with the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) was the possibility of getting married online and its legality. Online wedding also known as virtual wedding dispenses physical presence of the intending parties (bride and groom), officiating minister or registrar and witnesses as they could be in different locations.
The lockdown restrictions during the pandemic prevented free movement of people as well as large public gatherings amongst many other things. The effect of this restriction on the social life of citizens in different parts of the world drove them to find solace in technological advancement in order to meet their desired needs. One of such use of technology to improve the social life of people was the use of online software to facilitate wedding ceremony between intending parties. While online wedding was possible to meet societal needs, this article aims to examine the legality of online wedding in Nigeria, the UK, and the US.
Before proceeding with the meaning of online wedding, it is pertinent to attempt a definition of two singular terms; ‘marriage’ and ‘online’.
The term ‘marriage’ in accordance with statutory law is the voluntary union between a man and a woman for life to the exclusion of any other1. Marriage, according to customary definition, is the union of one man to more than one wife. Both forms of marriage are accepted under Family Law in Nigeria and are recognized by the Marriage Act 2004, the primary legislation for the celebration of marriage in Nigeria.
These two forms of marriages recognized under Nigerian Laws are briefly discussed below;
The term ‘online’ means an activity performed using the internet, computer or other computer networks. Generally, some activities that can be performed both physically (on-site) and online, give the end-user the option of making an alternate choice of one over the other at any given time. There are also other activities where the choice of use by the end-user is restricted to either online or physical. Where this is the case, a person cannot choose an online service where only physical/on-site option is made available and vice versa.
Online wedding therefore means the celebration of a union between a man and a woman through virtual means such as zoom.
In Nigeria, a wedding celebration is a fundamental requirement of a valid marriage. The wedding celebration will only be valid where parties conduct it in any of the places recognized by the Act. The Act recognizes only three places where wedding can be validly celebrated. These places are; marriage registry, a licensed place of worship and a licensed place other than the registry or licensed place for worship.
Marriage Registry2 - this is commonly referred to as court marriage. Marriage celebration in the registry is highly procedural and intending parties to the marriage must follow the process as spelt out below;
After the intending parties have obtained their ‘certificate to marry’, they can decide to celebrate their marriage either in the registry or in a licensed place of worship. If the intending parties choose to get married in the registry, the Act specifies some further requirements that must be observed. They are:
Licensed Place of Worship3 - another place recognized by the Act where marriage can be validly conducted is a licensed place of worship by any recognized minister of the place of worship. A licensed place of worship is usually a church or mosque. If the marriage is celebrated in a church that is not licensed, the marriage will not be valid.
The same additional requirements in the registry are applicable to the licensed place of worship. That is; the marriage must be conducted in a building that has been licensed by the minister, it must be conducted between the hours of 8am to 6pm, it must be conducted in the presence of at least two witnesses alongside the officiating minister, the doors must be opened during the ceremony. Immediately after the celebration of marriage, the marriage certificate must be signed by the officiating minister, the parties and the witnesses.
Any Place Licensed by the Minister4 - the Act makes provision for the celebration of marriage at any other place apart from the registry or licensed place of worship, in so far as the Minister grants a license for the place to be used to celebrate the marriage. However, the marriage celebration must be conducted by a recognized minister of a religious denomination or the registrar of marriage.
As previously stated, online wedding is the use of internet facilities or computer networks to conduct a marriage celebration. Online wedding when construed side by side with the requirements of celebrating a valid marriage in accordance with the Marriage Act, portrays a total deviation from Nigerian Law. The necessary requirements for a valid marriage in accordance with the Act which celebration of online wedding dispenses with are:
It is evident that these requirements can only be complied with where the intending parties, officiating minister and witnesses are physically present in the same place and time. It is impracticable to meet these requirements in the celebration of online wedding. Celebration of online wedding is contrary to the clear and straightforward provisions for conducting a valid marriage in Nigeria as ‘online’ is not part of the recognized places for conducting a valid marriage. In addition, The Matrimonial Causes Act states succinctly that any marriage celebrated in any place other than the three recognized places listed above shall be null and void5
Just like Nigeria, many countries in the world require the physical presence of the intending parties, the officiating minister and witnesses for the marriage celebration to be valid. However, some countries that recognize online weddings are:
The celebration and validity of online wedding between different nationals is based on whether the country where the marriage is conducted recognizes and approves virtual wedding. This article will consider online wedding celebrated people resident in separate countries below:
The United States recognizes online wedding, while the United Kingdom does not recognize online wedding as constituting a legal marriage as it requires the physical presence of both parties in a place approved by the law. Where nationals from both the UK and the US get married online, the marriage will be valid in the US. Even though online wedding is not valid in the UK however, it becomes valid in this instance where it was conducted in a country where online wedding is recognized and the parties have complied to the necessary procedures in the US. This is In accordance with the Foreign Marriage Act 1892.8
Nigerian law does not outrightly prohibit/prevent online weddings. Rather, it spells out the places where a marriage can be validly conducted, and because ‘online’ is not one of the valid places recognized, it makes online wedding legally void. Where nationals from both the US and Nigeria get married online, the marriage will be valid in the US but not in Nigeria where online wedding is not legally valid. In Nigeria, the party remains unmarried in the eyes of the law. What is required to do in such an instance is for the parties involved to legalise the marriage by following the provisions of the Nigerian Act.
Regardless of the technological advancement in aiding a plethora of issues necessary to meet the shortcomings of physical/onsite presence, it remains clear that online wedding is not legally recognized in Nigeria as it fails to meet the requirement of a valid marriage celebration.
1 Hyde v Hyde and Wodmanse 
2 Section 21 Marriage Act
3 Section 27 Marriage Act
4 Section 13 Marriage Act
5 Section 33 Marriage Act
Preye Ezonfade , LLB