Are You Married? Not Such an Easy Question…

Most people, if asked, would easily be able to say whether or not they are married – but that question was far from straightforward to answer in a case where a couple went through a lavish traditional ceremony in an African village.

The couple had four children together before their relationship broke down. They lived in London but maintained close connections with the country of their birth, Nigeria. They were the focus of a splendid ceremony there, at which they wore matching gold costumes and to which 500 guests were invited.

However, an issue arose as to whether the ceremony amounted to a marriage under English law. That question was of critical significance as the English courts would only have power to grant the couple a divorce, and rule upon their respective financial entitlements, if they were recognised as a married couple.

In arguing that he was a bachelor, the man claimed that the ceremony was merely a party at which he, the woman and their families had been formally introduced. In upholding the woman’s case however, the High Court found that the tribal event was a wedding and that the marriage had been valid from its inception.

Invitations to the ceremony and photograph albums of the event were typical of a formal wedding, as were the costumes worn by the couple and the ‘bridesmaids’. Money was showered on the couple; their parents danced together and there was evidence that the man had paid a ‘bride price’ or dowry.