How To Be Legally Married

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A purported union with one who is validly married is not a marriage. No matter how valid a marriage is in the eyes of the couple, clergy, relatives, church and the society, it must equally be valid before the law for it to be legal. The Bible urges us to respect laws and constituted authorities; for a marriage to be legal it must be in accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Act of 1949 except for traditional marriages, irrespective of the religious inclinations of the couples. 

Woe betide, a being who lives in a celebrated delusion that seems like a perfect union, believing he/she is in a legal marriage, for he/she isone in an illegal contract that can never be enforced while his/her children of such mirage are on a perpetual unmeritorious regret. The legality of your marriage may not border you now, until issues of rights, privileges, international employment, travel visa, will, inheritance, divorce, child custody, guardianship, annuity, insurance and burial arises. Before it gets dark, this article is to guide you on making and contracting a valid marriage in the eyes of the law.

Marriage is a union between one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all other persons(that is, English marriage/statutory marriage). It is a sacrosanct union that begets lots of rights, benefits, duties, privileges and responsibility for its couples and offspring of such union. To say the least,couples (husbands and wives) are protected from certain criminal charges and responsibilities, their children enjoy exclusive rights to inheritance while native law and custom cannot bound or limit them. In the Nigerian traditional and customary law system, marriage is not restricted to just a man and a woman rather a man and many wives and vice versa. Such marriage does not enjoy the full rights accorded to English marriage (that is marriage according to the law). In the eyes of the law, marriage is only what the law (Marriage Act) says is marriage. It is obvious, that in our present day Nigeria, many couples perform both English marriage (often referred to as “white wedding” “church wedding” and “court wedding”)and traditional marriage (often referred to as “Igba-nkwu”) to satisfy all interests and pressure. That is okay, and acceptable in law. Same couple (the same husband and wife) can marry each other under the traditional/customary law and subsequently marry eachother under the law. Buta man or a woman married under the traditional/customary law cannot subsequently marry according to the law a different person other than his/her customary wife /husband.Doing such is an offence punishable with five years imprisonment (section 46 of Marriage Act). Hear this, it is an offence for same couple to first marry according to the law “English Marriage” and then subsequently marry themselves according to the traditional/customary law. Such act is punishable with five years imprisonment as prescribed in section 47 of the Marriage Act. Many couples in a bid to maximise time, minimise cost and avoid waste are guilty of the above offence. Hence the trend of “white wedding” in the morning and traditional marriage in the afternoon or anytime later is illegal and a punishable offence.


In our modern contemporary society, many desire and strive for a decent home and a lovely married life but often time don’t get such owing to their ignorance. Many plan and celebrate their marriages without consulting their lawyers to educate and advise them on proper and legal means to marriage; hence they end up living in a web of error.

There are laid down procedures and requirements that must be fulfilled before a marriage can be said to be legal and lawful according to the Nigerian marriage Laws.TheMarriage Act of 1949 governs all valid marriage to be made in Nigeria or outside Nigeria (among two Nigerians in the Nigerian High Commission).  Please note that no other way or style or method of English marriage is accepted and legal except that to be explained below. The step is essential and sacrosanct. Whether you want your bishop, archbishop or court to wed you, you must start the process from step 1 and end in step 3. In summary, 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 people are expected to report any reason why the potential couple should not be wedded. Where there is no protest from the public to such impending union, at the expiration of 21 days, the Registrar of Marriages shall issue a Registrars’ Certificate to the couple. The certificate empowersthe concerned couple to go ahead and celebrate their marriage (exchange of vows) within three months. Such exchange must be done in public, often in a licensed place of worship (church) and before a registered clergy. (At that stage, people refer to such as “church wedding”). Some couple prefer to celebrate their own marriage (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, people refer to such as “Court wedding”). In all the two methods are same, from same origin and with the same legal benefits and responsibilities (it is a matter of convenience). 


Give Notice Of Marriage To The Registrar Of Marriage:

In Local Government Areas there are Registrars of marriages, who register marriages conducted within the Local Government Areas. The Registrars often have offices in Local Government Area headquarters. The first step to a valid marriage is the giving of notice of marriage to the Registrar of marriages by intending couple. The notice is given by filling and signing a form after payment of a prescribed fee in the office of the Registrar. The Registrar of marriages would cause the notice to be entered in the “Marriage Notice Book” and same published on the outer door of his office and the notice board of the Local Government Area.

After the expiration of 21 days from the day of publication of notice, the Registrar shall issue a “Registrar’s certificate” to the couple, where there were no objections from the public against their proposed marriage. The Registrar’s certificate is a proof that notice of such marriage had been given and that couple should go ahead to celebrate their marriage in any church/mosque or the office of the Registrar. Please, note that certificate can only be issued where the couple are not blood relations and one of the couple has been resident within the Local Government Area of the intended marriage for at least 15 days and none of the couple is below 21 years of age or married to another person.


Celebrate Marriage In licensed Church or Office

Three (3) months after the issuance of a Registrar’s certificate by the Registrar of marriages, the couple are expected to visit a licensed place of worship (licensed church/mosque building) or stay in the Registrar’s office to celebrate their marriage. 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. If it is to be celebrated in the office of a Registrar of marriage it must be between the hours of 10.00 am and 4.00 pmwith open doors. If after the expiration of 3 months from the date of issuance of such Registrar’s certificate, the marriage is not celebrated all notices and certificate will become void. And, all processes must start afresh for a valid marriage to emanate again.

Celebration of marriage must be either in a licensed place of worship (church/mosque building) under the supervision of registered clergy of the religious body (church/mosque) or in the office of the Registrar of Marriages. Please, be warned that it is not all churches, ministries, prayer centres and outfits that are licensed places for celebration of marriages. Note further, that where a church is a licensed place for celebration of marriage, it is only the recognised minister of the church that can wed people in the church. Hence, for example, it will be illegal for a catholic priest to wed a couple in an Anglican church.Let it be known to all that all valid marriages starts from step 1 and the certificate obtained in step 1 gives 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 that to be done through with the Registrar of marriages. Churches and clergies/ministers are advised to desist from wedding couples who have not obtained a Registrar’s Certificate empowering them to celebrate their marriage for it is an offence punishable with five years imprisonment (section 42 Marriage Act). A marriage celebrated in an unlicensed place or by an unrecognised minister of a religious body is null and void, if couple knowingly and wilfully acquiesced to such celebration.

While some people celebrate their marriage in the church, some prefer to do same in the office of the Registrar of marriages. Ignorantly, people refer to such celebration as a “court marriage” and do get unnecessarily scared of such, believing it to have more legal responsibilities and weight. A celebration done either in church or in Registrar’s office after the issuance of Registrars certificate to do so has been issued, are of same legal effect.  


Signing of Marriage Certificate:

Marriage rites do not end with exchange of vows rather with signing of marriage certificate by the couple before their two (2) witnesses and the officiating minister (clergy). Just like any other contract, what had been orally exchanged 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 marriage, the officiating priest would provide the book, fill its form and have same signed by the couple, their witnesses and himself. The officiating minister must offer deliver to the couple their marriage certificate while he retains a duplicate. The duplicate 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. Couple are advised to make sure the officiating priest transmits their marriage certificate duplicate to the Registrar of marriages for proper filling.

I must state that in special circumstances, the minister of Internal Affairs may issue a License to Marry to couples 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.  It should be noted that a marriage is invalid if, in the knowledge and wilfulness of the couple:

a.      It was celebrated under a false name or names or

b.      It was celebrated without a Registrar’s certificate or  

c.       It was celebrated in a place other than a licensed place of worship or the office of the Registrar of marriages or

d.      It was officiated by a person other than a recognised minister of some religious denomination.


Thank you!


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