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You may read our Part 1 of the types on Ghanaian Marriages by clicking this link. In this Article, we explore the Customary Marriage.


Customary marriage is the commonest marriage in Ghana because, it is the traditional type of marriage known to the indigens of Ghana and secondly the incidence of this type of marriage by its nature, happens almost immediately upon, the failure to achieve a valid Islamic marriage or a valid Ordinance marriage. Note that, how customary marriage happens differ from one ethnic group to the other. However, there is a broadly accepted legal framework to affirm if there has been a customary marriage or not.



A union of the man’s family and the woman’s family. It imposes rights and duties upon the two families. The woman’s family gains the right to perform certain rites in certain eventualities and the man’s family also gains the right to perform certain rites in certain eventualities. Justice Ollenu in Yaotey Vrs. Quaye [1961] GLR 573.  Per the definition of Justice Ollenu, this involves two families and not just the two individuals who are getting married. Whilst this may be a predominantly Akan view, it holds true in various forms for the many other ethnic groups in Ghana.


Elements or Essentials

For a valid customary marriage to occur, Justice Ollenu tells us that four key elements must be realized. These are: 1. Agreement by the parties to live as man and wife; 2. Consent of the Family of the man; 3. Consent of the family of the woman. and 4. Consummation by Co-habitation.


There are two main types of customary marriage. They are the Formal Customary marriage and the informal customary marriage. Whilst the Formal Customary marriage goes with elaborate ceremony and a formal pronouncement of the marriage, the informal happens based on the occurrence of the elements of the customary marriage between two people. It is called “Mpena Aware” in Akan settings. An example of the informal customary marriage occurs when the man and woman begin to live with each other as husband and wife without any formal ceremony. The Act of living together signifies an agreement of the parties to live together as husband and wife, thus meeting the first element. Secondly, the family of the man sees him living with the woman and they do nothing to separate them. This means there has been consent from the man’s family and that kind of consent is implied rather than actual. They may even call the woman as an in-law (Asew) and allow her to perform special rites reserved for in-laws during funerals in the man’s family. The woman’s family also becomes aware that she is living with the man and they do nothing to take her away from the man. They may also refer to the man as an in-law publicly and allow him to perform special rites reserved for in-laws during festivals and funerals. And finally, since they are living together, it can be safely concluded that they have consummated the marriage. This is an informal customary marriage and is accepted in the law.


The formal one on the other hand happens, when the man’s family goes to the woman’s family to seek the hand of the woman in marriage for their son. The Act of the man’s family moving to the woman’s family to seek her hand in marriage signifies consent from the man’s family and this is an actual consent. The woman’s family provides all the conditions they want and the man’s family meets those conditions. The two family’s set a date to celebrate the marriage and on that date all the necessary rites are performed. This concludes a formal customary marriage between the two parties and the two families.


The parties then go ahead to live together as husband and wife and consummation is assumed through the co-habitation.


Some characteristics of customary law marriage

Potentially Polygamous. A man can always decide to marry more women under customary marriage. “The man is entitled to marry as many wives as he can harmoniously live with and conveniently manage”. Graham vrs. Graham [1965] GLR 407 HC. The marriage remains potentially polygamous until the man marries another woman then it becomes polygamous.


Some marriages are prohibited on grounds of consanguinity and affinity. This differs from ethnic group to ethnic group. Generally, a person is not allowed to marry his sister, cousins, mother and other close relatives. The individual ethnic groups however, make appropriate exceptions.


Customary law marriage and ordinance are mutually exclusive. This is to say that, the two cannot exist together. Whilst customary marriage is potentially polygamous, the ordinance is exclusive and monogamous. The contraction of the ordinance totally cancels any existing customary marriage.


A customary law marriage can be converted into an ordinance marriage. But an ordinance marriage cannot be converted into customary law marriage.


The existence of a customary marriage is not a condition precedent for the creation of a marriage under the ordinance.




Regulated by Part 1 of the marriages Act or PNDC LAW 112, 1985. Customary Marriages and Divorce Registration Act.


The law is that, either of the parties to the marriage can pick up a form from the district assembly and begin the registration process. Each party is to appear with 2 witnesses to the marriage. They all complete their details as prescribed by law and indicate that they saw the conclusion of the customary marriage. The registrar after being satisfied, issues a customary law marriage certificate to the parties. This certificate is a piece of evidence of the marriage but does not change the marriage into an ordinance marriage.




Seduction – where a married woman is found to have had sex with another man other than her husband, or if that other man even touches some vital parts of the married woman, the Husband can divorce or claim damages known as Ayefare and continue with the wife. If he chooses to demand the damages, he cannot go ahead to divorce the wife. If he chooses to divorce the wife, he cannot claim the damages.


Note that under the customary law, a man cannot commit adultery since the marriage is potentially polygamous.


Enticement – If another man convinces the woman to withdraw her services to the man. The husband can claim damages. Services which can be withdrawn include cooking, consortium etc.


A woman can also ask for divorce where she is mistreated by the man. Mistreatment includes violence and non- provision of the daily necessities of the woman.





Usually a meeting of the two families. The person seeking to divorce is allowed to present his/her reasons for seeking the divorce. The elders from the two families listen and attempt a resolution of the matter. For purposes of the resolution, the meeting could be adjourned to allow some consultation and mediation. If all of that fails, the person seeking divorce will now return the drink his family took during the marriage ceremony and the marriage will be pronounced as dissolved. If such a marriage was registered, the parties must go back to the registrar to cancel the registration or update it to divorce status.


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Next Article on this topic (Part 3) will discuss Ordinance marriage. Thank you for reading.





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