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Jurisdiction of Nigerian Courts on Statutory Marriages Contracted Outside Nigeria

Published: 19 Sep 2017

Legislations Regulating Marriages in Nigeria

The principal legislations regulating statutory marriages in Nigeria are:

(a) The Marriage Act;

(b) The Matrimonial Causes Act Cap M7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004;

(c) Matrimonial Causes Rules made pursuant to the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Jurisdiction

The main requirement for Courts to have jurisdiction in relation to matrimonial causes proceedings is domicile in Nigeria. A person who is domiciled in any State of the Federation is considered domiciled in Nigeria and can bring a petition for matrimonial causes reliefs in the High Court of any State of the Federation, irrespective of whether he is resident in that State or not.

Domicile is generally defined as the place at which a person is physically present and regard as home. Section 7 of the Matrimonial Causes Act (“the Act”) provides that;

a)     a deserted wife who was domiciled in Nigeria either immediately before her marriage or immediately before the desertion shall be deemed to be domiciled in Nigeria;

b)    a wife who is resident in Nigeria at the date of instituting proceedings under this Act and has been so resident for the period of three years immediately preceding that date shall be deemed to be domiciled in Nigeria at that date.

Recognition of Marriages Contracted Outside Nigeria

Ordinarily, Nigerian Courts recognise statutory marriages contracted in Nigeria. However, Section 49 of the Act provides the conditions in which Nigerian courts will recognise a foreign statutory marriage thus:

“Subject to sections 50 to 53 of this Act, 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 valid in law as if it had been contracted in Nigeria before a registrar in the registrar's office.”

The conditions stipulated in Sections 50 to 53 of the Act are that for such marriage to be recognised and valid under Nigerian law, such a marriage must have been contracted before a Nigerian Diplomat or Consular office of the rank of Secretary or above, at his office. The office used by a marriage officer for the performance of his diplomatic or consular duties shall be regarded as the marriage officer's office for the purposes of the Act. The Act shall apply in relation to a marriage contracted before a marriage officer as nearly as may be contracted before a marriage registrar in Nigeria.

In the same vein, since Nigeria is a common law country, common law rules on recognition of foreign marriages on the basis of the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated (loci celebrations) applies. This is given credence by Section 3(1) (c) of the Act. The Section provides that a marriage will be declared void if it is not a valid marriage under the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated, by reason of failure to comply with the requirements of the law of that place with respect to the form of solemnization of marriages. Therefore, marriages which are validly contracted in the place of celebration will be recognized in Nigeria and shall confer jurisdiction on Nigerian Courts.

Also Section 32 of the Act provides for evidence of marriage thus;

“Every certificate of marriage which shall have been filed in the office of the registrar of any district, or a copy thereof, purporting to be signed and certified as a true copy by the registrar of such district for the time being, and every entry in a marriage register book, or copy thereof certified as aforesaid, shall be admissible as evidence of the marriage to which it relates, in any court of justice or before any person having by law or consent of parties authority to hear, receive, and examine evidence.”

Consequently, upon presentation of a certificate of marriage duly certified by the registrar of a foreign district, such certificate shall be admissible as evidence of the marriage by Nigerian courts.

Emmanuel Ekpenyong

Firm: Fred-Young & Evans LP
Country: Nigeria

Practice Area: Commercial Litigation

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