Are There any Differences Between Court and Church Marriage ?

Court and Church Marriage



Are There any Differences Between Court and Church Marriage ?: There is a great misconception among the Nigerian people that those who perform court marriage have greater rights in a marriage and that the marriage is more secure. They believe that the property of the husband if the marriage is done in court, would be shared equally between the husband and the wife. They also believe that marriages done in the church do not carry the same effect as court marriages, as divorcees go home without any form of property acquired during the lifetime of the marriage.

While this belief is not correct, this article exposes the fallacy of the concept of Church Marriage versus Court Marriage and asserts that both types of marriages are the same and have the same legal effect as the other.


Marriage is defined as the voluntary union for life between a man and a woman. The only form of marriage recognized under Nigerian law is the marriage between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages are highly prohibited under Nigerian law.

There are basically two types of marriages recognized under Nigerian law: statutory marriages and marriages under customary law or traditional marriages and Islamic Marriage.

Statutory Marriages

Are There any Differences Between Court and Church Marriage ? Statutory marriage is the voluntary union for life between a man and a woman and the exclusion of all others. Statutory marriage is a form of marriage where two parties marry in accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Act. It is a marriage that is guided and regulated by the provisions of the Nigerian Matrimonial Causes Act and the Marriage Act. This type of marriage allows for the union of one man to one wife; statutory marriage does not permit any form of polygamy. It is immaterial if the man decides to marry someone else under customary law.

Once the parties to a statutory marriage voluntarily consent to marry and do not have any underlying statutory impediments such as consanguinity or a degree of affinity, a valid statutory marriage can be entered into. It has been held that the consent of the parents in a statutory marriage is not compulsory to establish a valid statutory marriage.

After meeting the legal requirements by filling out the provided form in the marriage registry and making public announcements about the parties’ intention and willingness to get married, the intention of the parties would be published after a specified period. When there are no objections to the marriage, the parties can then fix a date to celebrate the marriage either before a judge in the court or in a recognized place of worship licensed by the court.

The marriage is dissolved by a petition from either of the parties (the husband or the wife). The petition may be based on the grounds that the marriage cannot be consummated by the parties, and as such, they wish to dissolve the marriage. The parties may also seek to dissolve the marriage due to alleged infidelity by the other party or because it is not feasible for both parties to stay together anymore, among other reasons that the court may deem reasonable in the circumstances.

After a successful dissolution of the marriage, parties to the marriage are entitled to some properties. All parties are entitled to the property acquired in their name during the marriage. All cars, houses, land, or assets registered in the wife’s name automatically belong to her. In cases of joint ownership of property between a husband and wife, supported by proper evidence, the property would be shared between the husband and the wife.

In the event that the property in question is land belonging to the wife, and the husband builds a house on the land, the house and the land automatically belong to the wife because she owns the land, and vice versa.

When the property in question is a gift bequeathed to the other party, such as a car or any other item, the wife or husband is entitled to that gift in the event of a dissolution of marriage by the parties. Such property cannot revert to the other party as a result of dissolution. However, if the gift carries a condition that it would be returned to the owner during the dissolution of the marriage, then the gift would automatically return to the party who gave it.

It is instructive to note that another benefit of a statutory marriage is the strict unity of personality recognized by Nigerian law. For instance, a husband cannot be an accessory after the fact to the wife, and a wife cannot be an accessory to the husband, and this provision is only enjoyed in statutory marriages.

The court may also order maintenance for the other party, whether it is the wife or the husband, depending on the circumstances of each case. In doing so, the court takes into consideration the earnings of the party, the condition of the marriage, custody of the children, and all other circumstances that the court regards as reasonable in the given situation.

Customary Marriages

Customary or traditional marriages are marriages done in accordance with the customs and traditions of the people. This type of marriage does not prescribe or limit the number of marriages a woman can enter into, but it does restrict a woman from getting married to more than one man at the same time.

The customary marriage is considered complete upon the payment of the bride price and a mutual agreement between the two intending families, following the agreement of the two parties involved. Without consent from the family, there would be no traditional marriage.

Traditional marriage is not just a union between two consenting adults; rather, it is a marriage between families that have agreed that their sons and daughters should get married. It brings the two families together, making it the most important marriage in Nigeria and the oldest form of marriage as well.

Differences Between Court and Church Marriages

There are no differences between court and church marriages recognized under Nigerian law. They share the same legal effects regarding the dissolution of marriage, custody of children, sharing of property, maintenance, and the number of spouses. Both are considered statutory marriages and carry the same legal weight under Nigerian law. The only distinction lies in the place of celebration of the marriage, whether in the church or in the court.


In conclusion, the prevailing misconception among Nigerians regarding court marriages having superior rights and security is debunked by this article. Both court and church marriages are affirmed to be equal in legal standing, challenging the belief that property rights and dissolution outcomes differ between the two.


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