Double-Decker Marriage In Nigeria: Issues, Problems And Solutions

Project and Seminar Material for Law

Double-Decker Marriage In Nigeria: Issues, Problems And Solutions


It has become a common practice in Nigeria for parties who intend to contract a statutory marriage to marry first under customary law before the solemnization of the statutory marriage. This practice may be explained by the fact that though Western civilization and culture have permeated Nigerian society, most people, even the most sophisticated understandably regard themselves as bound by the customary law of their place of origin. The Nigerian Marriage Act has given validity to this practice by enabling who are married under Customary Law to marry each other under the statute.

Some legal questions arise from this practice. It is uncertain whether the statutory marriage supersedes, for all intent and purposes, the previous customary-law marriage, or if the customary law marriage is merely put into abeyance to retrieve after the subsequent statutory marriage has come to an end. There is also the question of whether both marriages co-exist.

The purpose of this project will be to examine all this questions and the position of such marriages and the associated problems in Nigeria.

Chapter Five

Conclusion and Recommendation

5.0.0 Conclusion

From all the aforesaid, it is clear that the legal issues involved in double-deck marriage in Nigeria are enormous. Amongst such issues are ;

  1. The incompatibility between what terminates marriages under the Act and what terminate same under the customary law. For instance while adultery and intolerability is a “fact” evidencing the irretrievable breakdown of marriage under the Act, such is only a ground for divorce available exclusively to the husband under the customary law marriage system.
  2. The silence of the Marriage Act on the subsequent Act Marriage after a customary marriage.
  3. The non Nigerian law recognition of a double deck marriage as a class of marriage under any.
  4. A complete adoption of the co-existence theory will bring some practical difficulties as discussed in this paper and a wholly adoption of the “Conversion” theory may as well produce a bigger problems than it solves.

The Marriage Act only allows the customary law couple to celebrate a latter Act marriage while it prohibits a statutory couple from subsequently marrying under customary marriage law, although this latter rule is continually flouted. This is hardly surprising as it ignores the traditional importance of the customary law marriage and invariably implies that the non-existence of an Act marriage between the couple is a condition precedent to the celebration of a customary law marriage. The fact that a couple married under customary law can later marry under the Act inevitably creates the belief that the reverse is equally the case. And when a statutory spouse quite ignorantly flouts the provisions of section 35 of the Marriage Act (by contracting the latter customary law marriage), it is in the ardent belief that the two marriages legally co-exist.

It is the believe of couples who contract this kind of marriage that each marriage serves a purpose and the combined effect gives solid foundation to the marriage, that the two marriages have different incidents each of which cannot be relegated to the background. Actually these rationale apply even in cases of subsequent Act marriages. However, many Nigerians are ignorant of the incompatibility of the respective incidents of the two marriages which is one of the problems inherent in a system of dual marriage laws and cries out for reforms. The intention of the marriage celebrants is to be bound by the rules governing each marriage.

5.1.0 Recommendation

Even though Marriage Act does not expressly forbids a couple already married under the customary law from subsequently marring under it, and the customary law neither frown at the subsequent marriage under the Act after the initial customary marriage, however due to the unresolved legal issues concerning double-deck marriage and since “…a party who celebrated a “double-deck” marriage could not have two different types of marriage status – one under the customary law and the other under the statute….” .However, the following recommendations have been humbly proffered for the improvement of the law as regard the termination of double-deck marriages:

(a) The Law Makers

In other to clear the controversies associated with double deck marriages, there is the need for the law makers to introduce a new marriage law that will prohibit dual marriage in Nigeria. The passage of such law will curb the extravagant and unnecessary spending by couples on a single marriage. Such law will make it mandatory for couples to either contract Act marriage, or contract customary marriage only.

(b) Marriage Registry

The Registry should embark on a vigorous enlightenment campaign to discourage couples from wasting their money on the re-celebration of a marriage that has already been celebrated customarily. Couples should be educated that “… in Nigeria Customary Marriage is a legal marriage, a marriage recognized by customary
law….” and that the re-celebration will not add anything to their status. This will halt or at least reduce the erroneous belief that it is until when couples contracted a double- decker marriage before their marriage can be legal, safe and protected.

(c) The spouses

The spouses should have a firm mind whenever contemplating on marriage, they should either contract a marriage according to the custom which is a customary law marriage, or they should go for a pure Act marriage since both are recognized in Nigeria. The Supreme Court confirmed this in Jadesimi vs Okotie-Eboh , that “The status of being married under Islamic law or Customary Law is well recognized in this country”

(d) Communities

Since status of being married under Islamic law or customary law is well recognize in this country and since “Native law and custom” has equal recognition as enforceable laws .Communities should be mandated to present certificate to couples as an evidence of such marriage in order to allay the fears of marrying couples with regard to the documentation of their relationship.

In view of these, this research work has taking deliberate and precise effort towards examining the advantages, limitations and reasons why people engage in double-decker marriage. A standing form of model law has also been proffered by this study based on research findings of this work.

I do humbly hope that this research work will be an invaluable contribution to development of law as far as double-deck marriage is concerned.

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