Legal Implications of Church Weddings in Nigeria

Love they say is a beautiful thing, and when two people are in love, they usually decide to get married. 

A consideration of our various cultures and traditions as Nigerians also show that marriage is highly encouraged as families mount pressure on anyone who they think is of marriageable age and yet still unmarried. 

Celebration of Marriage

There are a number of ways marriage can be celebrated in Nigeria. It could be done Traditionally/Customary or Statutorily/Church. Either or are recognised under Nigerian law and most couples in Nigeria celebrate both.

For the purpose of this write-up, we will focus on Church Marriage. 

Church Marriages

In Nigeria today, a lot of couples would rather celebrate both Traditional and Statutory Marriage. This enables them to be covered both Traditionally under their Native Laws and Customs which is recognised under Nigerian Law and Statutorily under the Marriage Act. 

In simple terms, Church Marriages are marriages that are celebrated in a church properly licensed under the Marriage Act and by a Priest/ Pastor/ Minister licensed to perform such Act. However, Church Marriage goes beyond the aforementioned. It should be noted that Statutory Marriage (Court Marriage) can be and is celebrated in churches and such marriage celebration has the same effect as the one celebrated in the registry by the registrar. The condition being that the church in which such marriage is celebrated is a licensed place of worship and the person conducting the marriage is an authorised minister of the church.

Put in simple terms, some churches have been licensed by the government to celebrate marriages after following certain procedures and once those procedures are followed, marriages can be celebrated in the church. The church will issue to the couple a marriage certificate which is the same as the one that is issued by the registry. The marriage celebrated in the above mentioned way is also a valid Statutory Marriage and has the same legal implication as one celebrated in the Registry.

It should however be noted that a Statutory Marriage celebrated in a licensed place of worship (church) must be conducted by a recognized minister of that church else the marriage may be null and void. Simply put, if church ABC is a licensed to celebrate marriages, and a minister in church XYZ conducts a marriage in church ABC, that marriage may be invalid as it must be a recognized minister in church ABC that must conduct the marriage.

It should be noted that not all churches are licensed by the government to celebrate or conduct marriages and any marriage conducted in such unlicensed church is unknown to Nigerian laws and can never be deemed to be a statutory marriage. Some of such unlicensed churches issue their own certificate as proof of marriage as such church cannot issue a government certificate like the licensed churches.

No matter how nice or official-looking the certificate issued by an unlicensed church is and irrespective of how well the marriage is conducted in an unlicensed church, such marriage is unknown to law and has no legal backing at all. The said marriage at best will be described as a mere church blessing which in no way have the advantages a statutory marriage conducted in the registry or at a licensed church as.

Conclusively, intending couples should be inquisitive enough to know if the church they want to their marriage celebrated in is registered and this can be known by inquiring at the marriage registry around them. 

Written by E.I Onanuga Esq (OLOJUMETA)

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