Customary marriage in Ghana is one of three possible ways of getting married that are legally recognized. The others are Ordinance marriage which are overseen by a religious leader who is licensed to perform marriage on behalf of the government. They are legally marriage officers and are therefore able to sign legal marriage registration documents to make a marriage official. The other one is Islamic marriage which by the name is all forms of marriage carried out according the ways of those practicing Islam. It is not uncommon for someone to ask: is customary marriage legal in Ghana? Read on to know more.
Well customary marriage is recognized. Customary marriage in Ghana is recognized by government under the Customary Marriage and Divorce (Registration) Law, 1985 (PNDCL 112).
This law does not apply to Islamic or Ordinance marriages and thus the methods of registration of either are different. The means by which they may be dissolved legally also vary according to the different laws that apply to each. In the case of Ordinance marriage the law is The Marriage Ordinance, 1884 (Cap. 127, Laws of the Gold Coast, 1951 Rev.) and for Islamic marriages the law that is applicable is not clear but the marriage is performed according to the demands of Islamic faith. The divorce procedures are as outlines in the Quran and are applied as relevant. However, all marriages are required to be registered with the Registrar of marriages and have a certified true copy of the entry issued to all parties as proof of the transaction.
We will dig deep and answer the questions on customary marriage in Ghana in this article. What is customary marriage in Ghana and is it legal, what are the requirements.
What is a customary marriage in Ghana?
The customary marriage law Ghana despite not outlining the exact specifics of how the ceremonies should be performed has a number of set terms that must be adhered to enable the marriage be legally recognized. The things needed for customary marriage in Ghana include:
- Consent from the parents of both the bride groom and the bride
- Consent from both the bride groom and the bride
- A traditional ceremony according to the customary requirements of the bride’s family
- Payment of a bride price or dowry as agreed upon by both families
- Presence of key relatives such as uncles at the ceremony to act as witnesses to the adherence of all customary requirement
If all the above conditions are duly met then the two are set to be recognized by law as husband and wife. Customary marriage in Ghana serves the same purpose as marriage all around the world. To provide a legally acceptable means of sexual indulgence with one another with the ability to reproduce and build a family while providing either party support and lifelong partnership and companionship. After the ceremony of the marriage according to acceptable tradition the two have the legal obligation to register their union under the Registrar of marriages so that they are put in the register of marriages. It is important to note that customary marriages in Ghana are allowed to be polygamous with no limit on the number of wives a man can have.
How to register for customary marriage in Ghana.
According to the Customary Marriage and Divorce(Registration) Law, 1985(PNDCL 112) the registration of a customary marriage and divorce can be done at any time after the proclamation of the marriage as required by customary laws unless a certain time prescribe by the Secretary for Justice is passed after which the failure to register the union is considered an offence – there is no declared jail term or penalty for late registration under the law or its amendment in 1991 which means it may attract a minor fine at the most. This step has however not been carried out by many Ghanaian that got married by customary law as the number of marriage officers in the district assemblies have not been registered as registrars of deeds and thus cannot register the marriages.
The following is a step by step guide on how to register customary marriage in Ghana:
- Either or both parties in the marriage are required to apply in writing to the Registrar of Marriages in the district in which the marriage took place to be registered in the register of marriages. The application is done in a legal form prescribed under the law and can be found at the registrars offices. These are found in all district assemblies across the country.
- In the application you are required to provide the full names of both parties to the marriage along with their places of residence at the time of the marriage. The essential conditions necessary for the marriage to be valid under the concerned ethnicity must have been met to satisfaction.
- This statutory declaration is required to be supported by both party’s parents and any persons standing in their place. This part is exempt if not such relation is alive at the time of the registration. It is this part that necessitates the presence of the extended families from either side at the ceremony of the performance of marriage rites.
Upon receipt of an application for marriage, the registrar of marriages will go ahead and file the marriage in the register of marriages. He is also required by law to notify the public through a legal notice that shall be displayed within 28 days after the registration on a public notice board. This is done so that in the case of any objection to the marriage the registrar is notified.
Registration of customary marriage in Ghana is not complete until after the time of the notice is expired. This is twenty-eight days. If within the four week an objection to the marriage arises it is to be files in the District Court in which the marriage was registered alongside with proof of legal grounds of objection. The court shall furnish the concerned party in the marriage with copies of the provided legal grounds.
The court will then determine the validity of the claims in the objection and if it deems it insufficient it will dismiss any objections and the marriage will remain in the register of marriages. If the objection is backed by valid legal grounds and is deemed sufficient the court will order the Registrar of marriages to remove the marriage from the register of marriages. In this way the marriage may be said to be annulled, but in order for a dissolution of customary marriage in Ghana to be complete it needs to be done according the customary laws in which the marriage was done.
Customary marriage divorce in Ghana
As with any marriage, the beginning is always a happy story, a tale of love and dreams come true. Marriage is however not a ceremony but the beginning of a journey of a lifetime together in deep intimacy. This is the most personal relationship anyone can have and is therefore supposed to be comfortable and enjoyable for both parties. At the time when this is not the case and either party no longer wants to be in the union then a dissolution of customary marriage in Ghana procedure is done by the two in accordance to the customary law. This varies from one ethnic group to another but in some it may involve heavy consultations by both families in an attempt to find the cause for the request of divorce and the party at fault is fined as tradition requires.
After this is done there is a legal procedure to file for divorce under the customary marriage law in Ghana. The process is outlined in a step by step guide below follows:
- The dissolution of the marriage is filed in an application by either party at the registrar in the district the marriage was registered. The Registrar is required to then file it in the register of divorces. The parties shall both notify the registrar that the dissolution was in accordance to the customary law necessary.
- The parents or the parents standing in loco parentis (a representative of the parents allowed by law o be in the position) of the two are to support this in a statutory declaration. This is applicable to living relatives.
- The registrar will notify the public in twenty eight days of the divorce and invite objection to the process if any. This notice is to be posted in a public notice board in the district it was filed.
- Anyone with an objection to the validity of the reasons for which the registrar filed the divorce in the register of divorces is required by law to file the grounds of his/her objection the District Court of the district in which the application for divorce application was filed.
- Concerned parties are given copies of the grounds for objection that were filed by the person in objection.
- The court will then hear the arguments in against the objection and if it finds that there are no legal grounds for objection, one of which may be that the marriage was dissolved under section 41 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1971 (Act 367) then the objection is dismissed and the divorce is upheld.
- In the case that the District Court finds valid legal grounds for objection to the divorce then the court orders the registrar to remove any and all record of the divorce from all registers. In this manner the marriage is still upheld by the court which means a certain legal requirement was not met.
Customary marriage certificate in Ghana
Marriage has many legal implications on both parties in all aspects of life as far as responsibility in raising a family is concerned, property ownership and immigration and most importantly financially. It is a problem many encounter when travelling abroad or applying for foreign visas if there is no legal document to prove marriage or divorce. It is with this reason in mind that the office of the Registrar charged with registering a divorce or a marriage is required to issue a certified true copy of the entry into the registry a divorce or marriage to both parties. This certified copy issued to both parties is the customary marriage certificate in Ghana.
The ‘certificate’ is issued upon payment of the required fee for the filing of the entry. In the case that either party loses or misplaces the document and is in need of another copy the office of the registrar is required by law to issue you a copy at a fee. This copies are recognized by law and can be used sufficiently as proof of customary marriage and divorce.
As with any legal documents there are laws regarding filing for marriage or divorce under falsehoods of with intent to defraud by attaining a certified copy of any of the two documents through a falsehood and liable of a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of c 10,000.00 or both.
Law on customary marriage in Ghana also has a few other legal provision that are aimed at smoothing out legal nuances that may arise the case of demise of either party in the marriage. The law however does not state how custody over children should be done in the event of a legally registered divorce. It is however expected that the families concerned are able to work out a solution to their new domestic arrangement.
Succession law on customary marriage in Ghana
The Customary Marriage and Divorce (Registration) Law, 1985(PNDCL 112) in Section 15 subsection (1) and (2) provides a means of Intestate Succession. This concerns only the legal spouse in the marriage. It also provides an eye opener on the possibility of upholding validity of a customary marriage without having the marriage ‘certificate’ as it states in subsection (2):
“Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, where a court or tribunal is satisfied by oral or documentary evidence before it that a customary law marriage had been validly contracted between a deceased and a surviving spouse…”
When the court is satisfied with the evidence provided the court shall provide an allowance for the estate of the deceased spouse be distributed as is prescribed in the customary law under this law to the living spouse and relatives. The court will do this through a tribunal tasked with hearing cases concerning the divvying up of properties of a deceased individual.
It is also worth noting that despite the Ghanaian court not requiring you to provide any legal documentation and is accepting of oral declaration of the marriage, foreign authorities will require written proof.
Despite this legal requirements it has been reported frequently in the past that difficulty of access to District Assemblies to register marriage by customary law. This is citing that only Metropolitan Assemblies has their marriage officers registered as registrars of deeds and thus able to register marriages while those at district assemblies were denied this authority. This is according to an article in GhanaWeb that as during an ongoing campaign striving to prop up gender equity. This was during the same period that many called for a review of the law with FLFA at the forefront of the GTZ Legal Pluralism and Gender Pilot Project.
There have been a number of controversies surrounding customary marriage in Ghana and especially human rights activists getting carried away with concerns of forced marriages. Most recently was an incident in 2016 when two human rights activists from Canada were misled with a hoax rites ceremony. This prompted a Ghanaian couple in Canada to hold a very public wedding ceremony in an attempt to debunk the myth. Kingsley Prempeh, in his performance of customary rites to marry Barbara Nana Yaa Adowaa in Toronto, the leaders of the community of Ghanaian in Toronto used the opportunity to shed some light on the ceremony. The ceremony which was held at the Woodbridge Banquette Hall was open to the public and attracted a large crowd mostly of white Canadians curious to see what is customary marriage in Ghana and how is it done.
The public ceremony was successful in throwing the suspicion off the practice with many saying it was a beautiful ceremony that they would wish to perform themselves. This is as reported by ModernGhana in an article they published. Customary marriage in Ghana and many other African countries are the equivalent of the white wedding so many people prefer over our own traditional practices but the existence of a law that upholds its validity is one of the factors keeping the tradition alive. Further laws are necessary to streamline the process and encourage more couples to register their marriages as required by the customary marriage law Ghana.
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