Customary marriage is the most common form of marriage in Ghana. However, the specific traditional rites that validate a customary marriage vary from one ethnic group to another ethnic group.
It is essential to understand that registering a customary marriage contracted under the Marriages Act, 1884-1985 (CAP 127) is not compulsory in Ghana. However, once a customary marriage contracted in accordance with the parties’ customs is registered, there is a mandatory requirement under the Marriages Act, CAP 127, to have its dissolution registered as well.
Section 6 of the Marriages Act, CAP 127, makes it compulsory for a registered customary marriage that ends in divorce to be registered at the district office where it was initially registered. It states that the District Registrar shall record the dissolution of a customary marriage registered under CAP 127 in the Registrar of Divorce. The use of “shall” makes it mandatory to have a registered customary marriage which subsequently is dissolved, liable to registration by the parties. Following CAP 127, where a marriage registered is dissolved per the applicable customary law, the parties to the marriage shall notify the Registrar of such dissolution in the district where the marriage was registered.
However, the mandatory requirement under the Act does not apply to the dissolution of customary marriages under the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1971 (act 367).
Also, CAP 127 requires the parties to attach a statutory declaration stating that the marriage has been dissolved under the applicable customary law. The said statutory declaration should be supported by the following:
- The parents of the spouses, or
- The persons standing in place of the parents living at the time of the application for registration.
Upon receipt of the notification, the Registrar may notify the public of the dissolution of the marriage. The notice shall be displayed on the public notice board at the district office for twenty-eight days.
Objection to the Registration of Customary Divorce
It is pertinent to understand that CAP 127 allows any person to object to the registration of customary marriage at the District Registrar’s Office in Ghana. Precisely, section 8 of CAP 127 states that a person who knows of a cause why the Registrar should not have registered the dissolution of the marriage or objects to the validity of the dissolution under the applicable customary law may at any time after the publication of the notice file grounds of the objection in the District Court in the district in which the dissolution was registered.
Once the ground of objection is filed, copies shall be served on the parties affected by the objection. The District Court shall after hearing the parties to the grounds of objection, make any of the following orders:
- Where the District Court is satisfied that legal grounds have not been established for the objection, the Court shall dismiss the objection; or
- Where the District Court is satisfied that there are legal grounds for the objection, the Court shall order the Registrar to expunge the entries made in the register in respect of the dissolution of the marriage.
Thus far, the registration of the dissolution of customary marriages in Ghana is essential, especially regarding customary marriages registered under the Act.
Customary marriage is validly accepted in Ghana. Thus, its registration does not necessarily confer legitimacy on the marriage, but rather the necessary customary rites performed validate the marriage. Though a party or parties to a marriage may register their customary marriage, they are not under any compulsion of law to do so. However, if they do register and the said marriages lands on the rock, then it is incumbent on them to have the dissolved marriage registered.
The contents of this publication, current at the date of publication set out above, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon. Specific legal advice about your particular circumstances should always be sought separately before acting based on this publication.
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