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Published On: April 29, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Is Your Nigerian Traditional Marriage Recognised in the UK?

A Traditional marriage, also known as Customary marriage, is the marriage according to the custom or native law of a particular society.

When couples get married in Nigeria, they often follow beautiful traditions that differ among different tribes, such as the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa tribes. There are also variations within these tribes according to their localities. These traditions may include special ceremonies, exchanging gifts, bride price or dowry, dancing, introduction to families and getting consent from their families and communities.

If you were married in a traditional way in Nigeria and plan to live in the UK, you may wonder whether your marriage will be viewed as valid in the UK.


Case Study: N v D [2015] EWFC 28

In the reported case of N v D [2015] EWFC 28, the court had to consider the validity of a customary marriage ceremony that took place in Nigeria, on an application by the wife for a declaration of marital status under s55 Family Law Act 1986. The husband sought to dispute the validity of their customary marriage which took place in Nigeria in 2005.

The parties were born in Nigeria but had lived in England since childhood. N is Igbo and D is Yoruba. Although they lived in England, they both maintained significant ties with Nigeria and returned to Nigeria very regularly. N’s family were based in her village of origin and D’s family were largely based in Lagos. The parties’ relationship began in 2002 and ended in 2011 and they shared four children who were born between 2003 and 2009.

Professor Oba Nsugbe KC SAN, the jointly instructed expert in this matter, advised that while customary law may differ from tribe to tribe, the essential requirements are largely consistent: parental consent; consent of the parties; capacity to marry; bride price or dowry; and the formal handing over of the bride at the marriage ceremony where the parties are declared husband and wife.

On consideration of the background and events leading up to the ceremony; the evidence given by numerous family members and other witnesses; correspondence and most notably a CD containing photos of the occasion; Mr Justice Peter Jackson was satisfied that a valid customary marriage had taken place. A declaration of marriage was therefore made.

The law governing this validity is in the Latin phrase “lex loci celebrationis”, which means that if the formalities of the marriage comply with the local laws of celebration of marriage, then the marriage is valid.Let us simplify this and look at how Nigerian traditional marriages fit into UK laws.


Key Aspects of Nigerian Customary Marriages and UK Recognition Challenges

Family and Community Agreements

The consent and agreement of the families, and sometimes the broader community, are pivotal in Nigerian customary marriages. A formal introduction of the families is arranged, which involves the prospective groom in a prearranged visit to the family of the bride at their home, accompanied by prominent members of his family. The families’ acceptance is key to the joining of the couple and their families.

These agreements are essential for the recognition of marriage in Nigeria but differ significantly from UK laws. In the UK, marriages require official registration and documentation, regardless of family or community consent.


Verbal Consent and Community Recognition

In some Nigerian communities, verbal agreements and community recognition can suffice to validate a marriage under customary law. However, in the UK, marriages must adhere to strict legal documentation and specific procedures for recognition.


Bride Price and Dowry

In Nigerian customary marriages, the negotiation and payment of a bride price or dowry is a common practice. This tradition, which signifies respect and appreciation from the groom’s family to the bride’s family, plays a crucial role in these unions. However, this element does not align with the legal marriage framework in the UK, where there is no equivalent practice or requirement for recognising a marriage.


Symbolic Rituals and Celebrations

Ethnic groups in Nigeria celebrate marriages with unique rituals and ceremonies, like the Igbo’s “Igba Nkwu” (wine carrying ceremony) and the Yoruba’s introduction ceremony. Whilst central to Nigerian cultures, the UK’s legal framework for marriage requires a formal registration process. Any ceremony held must be conducted by a recognised official for the marriage to be legally valid.



Polygamous marriages, which are permissible under Nigerian customary and Islamic laws for some groups, face legal challenges in the UK. The UK legal system recognises only monogamous marriages, creating a significant barrier for those in polygamous unions seeking recognition.


Verbal Consent and Community Recognition

In some Nigerian communities, verbal agreements and community recognition can suffice to validate a marriage under customary law. However, in the UK, marriages must adhere to strict legal documentation and specific procedures for recognition.


Legal Recognition  of a Nigerian Customary Marriage in the UK

For a Nigerian customary marriage to be recognised in the UK, it must comply with the legal requirements in Nigeria.

The criteria for international marriages under UK law must also be satisfied in relation to the pre- marital domicile of the parties and their capacity to marry within that domicile.

This process often involves obtaining official marriage certificates and potentially undergoing further legal procedures in the UK.

It is important for individuals in such situations to seek legal guidance. Legal experts can provide valuable assistance in navigating both the rich traditions of Nigerian customary marriages and the legal requirements of the UK.

For further information and assistance on how your Nigerian customary marriage can be recognised in England and Wales, contact the Family Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors, where we can work together and reach a desirable outcome. You can also book a free 20-minute consultation with our Family Law experts. Navigating the intersection between Nigerian customary marriages and UK legal requirements can be complex. However, with the right legal advice and understanding of both legal systems, couples can ensure their union is recognised and respected in both countries.

* Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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