Customary Marriage

Matrimonial Relationship

Where there is a right, there is a corresponding duty and obligation.  Therefore a wife under any of the different marriage is expecting to perform certain duties in matrimonial relationship.

Duty to be of good behavior while the marriage lasted and in some customs  after divorce or on becoming a widow to be morally upright befitting her status, duty to bear her husband’s name upon becoming his legal wife, duty to provide custody to her children even after divorce especially when they are of a tender (minor) age,  duty to bring up her children and all other children of the marriage especially under customary law where she is a co-wife to yet another in the polygamous marriage system

Under customary law, a wife is expected to carry out some specific and general duties.   The wife must cohabit with her husband. Whenever she asserts her right of cohabitation, it becomes a duty. On the other hand, the wife owes the husband a duty to cohabit with him in a customary law marriage.

Where she fails to cohabit without just cause, the husband may in most customs regard the marriage as one that has failed and would ask for judicial separation. It is remarkable to observe that in most customs, the husband may abandon his duty to cohabit without sanction but the same can not be said of the wife.   Another fundamental duties both couples owe to each is the duty to consummate.  Even though procreation is an end itself, procreation fails where there is no consummation.

 Therefore, consummation is the foundation for all marriages and constitutes a ground for nullity.  The right to sexual intercourse with each other must be exercised reasonably and with due regards to the health of other partners. Suffice to add that customary law marriage envisaged situations where the wife as against any other person has the principal duty towards her husband to perform several functions within the family. 

Domestic duties of a wife in the matrimonial home she owes to her husband includes duty to cook food, duty to help him in the farm to provide water, duty to look after the children, duty to keep the premises clean and tidy, duty to give her husband financial assistance if she has, duty to satisfy is reasonable sex need, duty to run errands, duty to entertain his friends and guest, duty to care for him at old age and during sickness.  Duty to not to abandon the home without just reason and duty to do the necessary morning for him when he dies.


The duties under this type of marriage are not entirely separated from those duties under a customary law marriage.  Apart from those duties in a customary law marriage that impeach on her fundamental human rights especially as a widow and those demanded by certain type of marriage.

She owes her husband a duty to cohabit and services, if she has the means and all those other duties and obligations that are reasonably expected from the marital relationship.

Every wife has an omnibus duty she owes to her child or children of the marriage where she is a party. All of such duties are statutorily provided for.  Thus in the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence for the parents/guardian of a child who abandons or exposes the child under the age of seven years in such a manner that any grievous harm is likely to be caused to its is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for five years.

Also an offence for parents for failing to provide to their children welfare.

It is the duty of every person having charge of another who is unable by reason of age, sickness, unsound of mind, detention or any other cause to withdraw himself from such charge and who is unable to provide himself with the necessaries of life.   Whether the charge is undertaken under a contract, or is exposed by law, or arises by reason of any act, whether lawful of the person who has such charge, to provide for that other person the necessaries of life; and he is held to have caused any consequences which result to the life or health of the other person by reason of any omission to perform that duty.   it a duty to the parents to provide education for the child.  

Similarly, a wife is compelled by statute to maintain children of the marriage have specifically enjoined parents of a child of the marriage to take adequate care of that child.  This also provided that subject to  this, the court may in proceedings with respect to the maintenance of a party to a marriage or of children of the marriage, other than proceedings for an order for maintenance pending the disposal of proceedings make such other as it thinks proper, having regards to the means, earnings and all other relevant circumstances.