Marriage and The Law in Nigeria – What you need to know
by Amaka Obi
There is a lot of confusion, half-truths and miscommunicated or mis-understood facts when it comes to what constitutes a legally binding marriage, especially in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
Lots of couples go into marriage with an assumption which may or may not be the truth. They are advised by their parents or elders on the steps they should take to make their union formal. But most times, as some have come to learn the hard way, making a union FORMAL, does not necessarily make it LEGAL.
Some women have only realized that they aren’t legally married to their husbands after the man passes on or after a separation and divorce. Some realize when there is a property ownership tussle. Some realize at the point where some documents are required of them for some arrangements like travel visas etc.
Some people get married traditionally and then in the church and also in the registry. Some get married only traditionally. Some only in their places of worship only.
Some get married and then buy properties together in the name they are called (Mr and Mrs). Some don’t.
So, what are the significance of all these and how does the law of the country interpret each action.
Let’s find out
Firstly, married couples need to know this, there is no such legal personality known as “Mr and Mrs Okoro”. You can only have “Mr Kenneth Okoro” or “Mrs Patricia Okoro”. You might just be creating a legal problem for yourselves when you use “Mr and Mrs Okoro” to buy those goods or properties. If you are really interested in buying a property as a couple then your names should appear in the agreement as Mr. Sunday Essien and Mrs. Maria Sunday Essien instead of Mr and Mrs Sunday Essien (because anyone can be Mrs Sunday Essien apart from you)
For intending couples, Please note, there are only two types of marriages recognized in Nigeria;
1. Marriage under the Act (Matrimonial Causes Act and Marriage Act),
2. Marriage not under the Act (Marriage under Islamic Law and Marriage under Customary Law)
The first is monogamous in nature while the latter is restricted polygamous and unrestricted polygamous in nature.
For intending couples of the Christian faith, there is no such thing as “church wedding”.
If your church is a “licensed place of worship”, what they conduct there is a “Marriage under the Act”. If your church is not a licensed place of worship and you only conducted customary marriage without going to the marriage registry, what they would have done in your church may just be a celebration and the blessing of your customary marriage.
So please, make enquiries and find out if your church is a duly registered and licensed place of worship to ensure your marriage, contracted there, is recognized under the law (by the laws of the land)
If your church is a licensed place of worship, wedding in church and also going to the marriage registry are one and the same thing (Marriage under the Act). Meaning a waste of resources and duplicity of purpose.
Finally, for married couples (especially those who are married under the Act ie, those whose marriage is legally recognized by law) all things been equal, it is advised that you change your next of kin to your spouse after wedding from your sibling or anybody else you used before wedding. Making your spouse your next of kin makes it easier for them to process any accrued benefit especially if either of you die intestate (without leaving a will).
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