What is marriage in Nigeria?
Marriage is simply the union between a man and a woman to become husband and wife. Nigeria has a plural legal system. As a result, traditional marriage and statutory marriage are both recognised by law. Both forms of union are quite common in Nigeria. If you are planning to get married, there are things you must know about traditional and statutory marriage.
Traditional Marriage vs Statutory Marriage in Nigeria
What is traditional marriage?
Traditional marriage is usually performed according to the customs or culture of a particular ethnic group. Nigeria has many ethnic groups. This is why we also have diverse customary laws. Most traditional marriages in Nigeria have similar characteristics to a large extent. Yet still, few things might be different in various customs.
According to Yoruba laws and customs for instance, a man is allowed to marry more than one woman. This polygamous nature of Yoruba Traditional Marriage exists in many other ethnic groups as well.
What is statutory marriage?
Statutory marriage sometimes referred to as court marriage or registry marriage in Nigeria is regulated by statutory law.
There are two principal statutes that regulate statutory marriage in Nigeria. These statutes are the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act.
Statutory marriage is monogamous marriage. This means the spouses cannot marry more than one person during the validity of the marriage. If either of the party wants to marry another person, they must end their current marriage first by divorce.
Characteristics of traditional marriage and statutory marriage
There is usually no age requirement in customary marriage in Nigeria. However, though it occurs in some places, minority marriage is not very common in Nigeria.
Couples aged 21 years or older can marry without parent’s consent under statutory law. Someone under the age of 21 years could get married under statutory law but such person must obtain parent’s consent first. The consent could be obtained from the father or mother depending on particular circumstances under the Marriage Act.
Dowry is very important in traditional marriage. A dowry is usually a form of money or other types of property that is given to the parents of the bride.
There is no such thing as dowry in statutory marriage on the other hand.
Customary and traditional marriage ceremony in Nigeria
Traditional marriage usually involves a wedding ceremony where the couples are united. The marriage ceremony usually takes place at the bride’s family residence. Family members of both couples are usually present at the ceremony. Traditional marriage ceremony usually goes along with celebration and it could take quite long.
Ceremony in statutory marriage could take place at the Court, registry, or a licensed place of worship1See section 6(1) of the Marriage Act 1914. (e.g. church). Details of the marriage will then be entered in the marriage registry.
Marriage ceremonies at the Court or registry usually take less time in comparison to traditional wedding ceremonies. However, it is quite common for parties to conduct a lengthy celebration at designated places thereafter.
Demise (death) of a spouse
If one of the spouses in a customary marriage dies without leaving a will, their estate will be administered under customary law. It could be difficult to decide the relevant customary law in some cases. This is because of the diversity of customary laws as mentioned earlier.
For instance, couples might get married in a particular place and then relocate elsewhere to live their lives. The question could then arise as to which customary law would apply. Would it be the customary law of the place where the deceased got married or the one where they lived?
On the other hand, a deceased spouse’s estate would be administered under statutory law if the couples were married under statutory law. Determination of relevant law is not usually a problem because of the uniformity of statutory law.
Dissolution of traditional marriage and statutory marriage (divorce) in Nigeria
Customary marriage can be dissolved at the Customary courts. It is worth knowing that lawyers do not have a right of audience in the customary courts. This means that a lawyer may not be able to represent a party in a divorce proceeding in the customary courts. Parties usually represent themselves in the customary court.
Statutory marriage on the other hand can be dissolved at the High Court and parties may be represented by lawyers.
Customary marriage and statutory marriage are both recognised by law in Nigeria. They both have advantages and disadvantages. If you are planning to get married, it is worth considering the characteristics of both.
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- 1See section 6(1) of the Marriage Act 1914.