Marriage and getting married is one of those things in life that an average person believes he understands. It is unfortunate that many people do not very well understand the implication of what they do when they choose a particular type of marriage in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, many people do not even know that there are types of marriage, they just do what is convenient at the time they think it’s time to “take their relationship to the next level”.
As of today, there are three main types of marriage in Nigeria. They are, customary marriage (under which Islamic marriage falls), church marriage and statutory marriage.
Our courts have adopted the definition of marriage given in the landmark English Court of probate and divorce case of Hyde vs. Hyde, which is, “the voluntary union for life between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others.”
This definition however relates to a statutory marriage, that is, one conducted in any marriage registry in Nigeria. (They are usually located within Local Government premises).
Only a statutory marriage promises you that your marriage will be to the exclusion of others, and where one party is guilty of adultery, the other party can validly bring an action against them in court for bigamy in some states in Nigeria, and also file for divorce or separation in court.
For customary marriages and Islamic marriages, they are polygamous in nature. Hence, if all you did with your spouse is traditional marriage, otherwise known as engagement or introduction, or if all you did was Nikkah, your spouse (in most cases, the man), can marry another person and that would be acceptable within the boundaries of the type of marriage you conducted.
For church marriages on the other hand, due to the beliefs of Christianity which favor monogamous marriages, marriages conducted in church may frown at parties marrying another spouse during the pendency of the marriage. To take it a step further, churches that are registered with government as a place of marriage are given government approved certificate of marriage, hence the signing and issuance of this certificate metamorphoses the church marriage into a statutory marriage.
Now, where there are irresolvable issues in a customary marriage, and the parties want to go their separate ways, they may approach the customary or family court (magistrate court) for the dissolution of the marriage, or the woman may refund the bride price that was paid, or parties may literally just go their separate ways.
If the marriage produced children, generally the man is entitled to the children where they are not toddlers. This is because under customary laws, the man owns the children. If however they are toddlers or suckling babies, the woman may have their custody until they can live with their father.
The parties on the other hand may approach the courts for determination of who gets the custody of the children, the courts according to native laws and customs (or Islamic laws) and their discretion will award custody to any party they discern will favor the interests and well-being of the children.
Where there are irresolvable issues in a statutory marriage, parties have an option of seeking dissolution of that marriage in court, they have the right to claim ownership or joint ownership of properties acquired during the pendency of that marriage, they have a right to claim money from the other party for maintenance and/or upkeep of the children (if they are in custody of the children).
There are people who are in customary marriages but are expecting the benefits of a statutory marriage, and vice versa. It is important to know what you are getting into, or what you have gotten into and to guide yourself appropriately just in case you wanted something else.