Marriage in the English dictionary is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners. It is also called matrimony or wedlock and this union establishes rights and obligations between the two people who are married and just like every other contract entered into by parties, it is guided by certain laws. The aim of this write-up is to give a brief overview of the marriage laws in Nigeria and the procedure for getting married in Nigeria



Broadly speaking there are two types of marriages in Nigeria, which are Marriage under the Act, which is known as Statutory Marriage and there is also the Traditional/Customary marriage. Traditional/Customary marriage is a wedding ceremony that has been conducted in accordance with the customs of the bride and groom’s families. Customary laws regulate it but the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act regulate statutory marriages.

At this point, it is necessary to point out that a statutory marriage is different from a church marriage. The fact that a marriage ceremony is celebrated in a church does not necessarily mean that is was contracted under the Act. For a church marriage to be recognized as statutory, it must comply with the requirements of the Act. The courts have held that in order to make such marriages statutory, the parties must consciously take steps and adopt the procedure in the Marriage Act.



It is worthy of note that there are laws that guide the celebration of marriages in Nigeria, the Marriage Act (MA) provides that the following must take place for it to be recognized as a valid marriage:

  • The marriage must take place in a registered place of worship and must be conducted by a licensed minister or in the office of the registrar. Not all churches/mosques are licensed places for the celebration of marriages.
  • It must be done with open doors.
  • It must be done between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm.
  • There must be at least 2 witnesses besides the officiating minister.

A marriage certificate is issued to the parties after a marriage has been contracted. The final step is the signing of the marriage certificate. This must be done by the couple and be witnessed by 2 people and the officiant (the person conducting the marriage ceremony). 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. Once all the steps are followed, it is a valid marriage under the Act.

The Marriage Act also stipulates that the marriageable age of any person is 21 as it provides that where either of the party to be married is less than twenty-one years of age, then consent must be given by the father or mother or guardian of such person.

Under the Marriage Act, there are some acts that are considered as offences and if committed, it would lead to grave consequences. These offences include but are not limited to:

  • Marriage to a person with the knowledge that such a person is married to another. A person who commits this offence is liable to 5 years imprisonment.
  • Where a person makes a false declaration in a statement, which the law requires for the purpose of marriage.
  • Where someone stands in as a witness knowing that he is not qualified to do so, he will be liable to 5 years imprisonment.
  • A person who has full knowledge that the marriage being contracted is one which is not valid but still goes ahead to contract it is liable to 5 years imprisonment.

The Marriage Act also recognizes foreign marriages that are contracted outside of Nigeria. It provides that a marriage between parties one of whom is a citizen of Nigeria if it is contracted in a country outside Nigeria before a marriage officer in his office shall be as valid in law as if it had been contracted in Nigeria before a registrar in the registrar’s office.

In conclusion, an intending couple must always endeavour to take the right steps when it comes to contracting a marriage so as not to fall into the trap of entering into a void or voidable marriage. For a marriage to be valid under Nigerian law, it must be conducted in accordance with the due process of law.


By Family Law Department at Resolution Law Firm