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The Marriage Bill, 2017- What Christians need to know

Marriage Bill, 2017

1. The Proposed marriage law

The Uganda Law Reform Commission has developed legislative proposals to govern the institution of marriage. The proposed Bill provides for types of marriage, marital rights and duties, separation and divorce.

2. Objective of the Bill

The objective of this Bill is to reform and consolidate the laws governing marriage,provide for the types of marriage, marital rights and duties arising from marriage, grounds for and divorce and other connected matters. The Bill is an attempt to:

  1. align the law on marriage with the Constitution of Uganda;
  2. to consolidate the laws on marriage;
  3. to reflect in our law, the socio-economic realities of Uganda; and
  4.  to breathe life into rulings of Ugandan courts on matters of maintenance, grounds for divorce, bride price, widow inheritance and parental consent.

The Marriage Bill, 2017 seeks to to consolidate and repeal the following existing familylaws:

  1. the Customary Marriage (Registration) Act (Cap. 248);
  2. the Divorce Act (Cap. 249);
  3. the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act (Cap. 250);
  4. the Marriage Act (Cap. 251); and
  5. the Marriage of Africans Act (Cap. 253).

3. Marriages provided for in the Bill

This Bill deals with Civil, Christian, Customary, Hindu and Bahaima marriages.

4.  Legal Status

In this Bill all marriages have the same legal status.

5. Registration of marriages

Registration of every marriage solemnized within Uganda is compulsory.

The Bill provides for the following persons as registrars of marriage:

  1. a District Registrar who is the registrar of all marriages in the district;
  2. a celebrant of a licensed place of public worship where a marriage is celebrated; and
  3. a Sub County Chief in respect of a customary marriage celebrated in the locality.

6. Widow inheritance

The customary practice of widow inheritance where a male relative of a deceased husband inherits the widow as wife is prohibited and punishable.

7. Marriage gifts

Marriage gifts include presents that are given to relatives of parties entering into a marriage and include bride price.

It will be an offence to demand the return of the marriage gift and it is punishable.

8. Prenuptial Agreement

A prenuptial agreement is one entered into before a marriage by the two people intending to marry. The agreement spells out how property owned by either or both parties shall be dealt with during the marriage and at the dissolution of the marriage or death of either or both of the parties.

The Bill makes provision for prenuptial agreements.

9. Requirements for a valid marriage

The requirements for a valid marriage are:

  1. minimum age of 18 years;
  2. free consent of each party to the intended marriage;
  3. both parties must be of sound mind;
  4. parties must not be within the prohibited degrees of relationship; and
  5. the parties intending to marry must be of the opposite sex.

10. Preliminaries for marriages

  1. In a civil marriage, parties have to give notice of intention to marry to the District Registrar, who will cause the notice to be entered into the Civil Marriage Notice Book. The Registrar will then issue marriage license. A civil marriage must then be solemnized within three months.
  2. In a Christian Marriage, wedding banns are published in a licensed place of worship. The marriage must take place within three months after the publication of banns.
  3. Persons intending to marry customarily must give notice to the Sub-county Chief, who will cause the notice to be entered into the relevant Marriage Notice Book. A customary marriage may be solemnized in any part of the country in line with the customs, rites and practices of the people entering into the marriage.
  4. For a Hindu marriage, the persons intending to marry shall in addition to the customs, rites and practices observed among the group of one or both of the parties to the marriage give notice of intention to marry to the District Registrar who shall cause the notice to be entered into the relevant Marriage Notice Book and shall, in addition to any other requirement, state that the parties have complied with the Hindu Marriage requirements which are not inconsistent with any written law.
  5. For a Bahai marriage, the bridegroom should have paid dowry to the bride, informed the Local Spiritual Assembly of their intention to get married,  the date on which the ceremony is to take place and the parties intending to marry must have identified two witnesses. The marriage should be announced on the ninety fifth day.

11. Solemnization of marriages

  1. A Civil marriage shall be performed before a District Registrar; in the presence of at least two witnesses; and between the hours of nine o’clock in the morning and five o’clock in the afternoon.
  2. A Christian marriage shall be solemnized in a licensed place of worship; in accordance with the observed customs, rites and practices of the Church, body or denomination to which the place of worship belongs; by a recognized celebrant of the church, religious denomination or body to which either one or both parties to the marriage belong; in the presence of at least two witnesses; between eight o’clock in the morning and before six o’clock in the evening; and with open doors.
  3. A customary marriage may be solemnized in any part of Uganda in accordance with the customs and rites observed among the ethnic group of one or both parties to the intended marriage.
  4. A Hindu marriage shall be solemnized in accordance with the customs and rites observed among the religious group of one or both of the parties to the marriage.
  5. A Bahai marriage shall be solemnized in accordance with the customs and rites observed among the members of the Bahai faith.

12. Void and voidable marriages

A void marriage one that is treated as if it was never entered into.

A marriage is null and void where:

  1. the parties are within the prohibited degrees of relationship whether natural or legal or by marriage;
  2. either party was of unsound mind at the time of the marriage;
  3. the consent of either party to the marriage was obtained by duress or fraud;
  4. either party at the time of the marriage had not attained the age of 18 years.

In addition, a Civil Marriage is null and void where one or both of the parties had a living spouse and the marriage with the living spouse is still subsisting.

13. Voidable Marriage – is legal until declared void by a competent court

A voidable marriage is legal until it is declared void by a competent court.

A marriage is voidable where one of the parties to the marriage:

  1. unreasonably refuses to consummate the marriage for a period of three months from the date of solemnization of the marriage;
  2. is unable to consummate the marriage within six months of the marriage;
  3. is permanently impotent and the fact was not known to the other party prior to contracting the marriage; or
  4. one of the parties conceals a material fact.

14. Objection to a marriage

For the solemnization of any marriage, any person who knows of any reasonable ground why a marriage should not take place may enter an objection against the marriage.

How can an objection be done?

  1. For a Civil marriage, by notifying the District Registrar of the grounds of the objection to the proposed marriage.
  2. For a Christian, Hindu or Bahai marriage by notifying the relevant celebrant stating the grounds of the objection to the proposed marriage.
  3. In the case of a customary marriage, stating the grounds of objection of the proposed marriage to the Sub-county Chief.

Any person residing outside Uganda who knows of any reasonable ground why a marriage may not take place may send an objection signed in accordance with the laws of his or her country of residence and have it dully authenticated by a Notary Public, Commissioner for Oaths or any person authorised by the law of that country and send it to the Registrar or the Registrar General.

It is an offence to make a false statement prevent an intended marriage

15. Grounds for objection to a marriage

A person may make an objection to the solemnization of any marriage where:

  1. the parties to the intended marriage are within the prohibited degrees of relationship, whether natural or legal or by marriage;
  2. either party is of unsound mind at the time of engagement;
  3. either party, at the time of marriage, has a living spouse and the marriage with the living spouse is still subsisting;
  4. the consent of either party to the intended marriage was obtained by duress or fraud.

16. Matrimonial rights and obligations

Matrimonial rights include:

  1. conjugal rights;
  2. property rights;
  3. right to citizenship;
  4. right to make medical decisions;
  5. right to receive the deceased spouse’s social security and pension benefits; and
  6. joint parental rights.

17. Conjugal rights

Conjugal rights are the right of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife.

A spouse may deny the other spouse the right to sexual intercourse on reasonable grounds which may include:

  1. poor health;
  2. poor health;
  3. surgery that affects the capacity to engage in sexual intercourse;
  4. child birth; or
  5. reasonable fear that engaging in sexual intercourse is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or harm.

18. Property rights

A spouse has the right to acquire and own property as individual property during the subsistence of the marriage.

19. Matrimonial property

Matrimonial property includes the matrimonial home or homes and all other real and personal property and businesses acquired by either or both spouses before or during the marriage, held in joint ownership.

  • Matrimonial property excludes the ancestral property.
  • Matrimonial property acquired by a husband and a wife shall be held in common by the husband and the wife in respect of property acquired during the marriage.
  • Any transaction in matrimonial property shall be with the consent of both spouses.

20. Equal access

A spouse shall have equal access to matrimonial property which includes;

  1. the right to the use, to benefit from and to enter the property; and
  2. where there is an agreement between the spouses, the right to share income from disposal of the property.

21. Liability incurred before marriage

Liability incurred by a spouse before marriage relating to separate property shall, after the marriage, remain the liability of the spouse who incurred it, except where such property becomes matrimonial property.

22. Contribution to property acquired before and during the marriage

Where a spouse acquires property before or during the marriage and the property does not fall within the meaning of “matrimonial property”, but his or her spouse makes a contribution towards the improvement of that property, be it monetary or in kind, the spouse without the interest shall acquire a beneficial interest equivalent to the contribution she or he made.

23. Matrimonial property in polygamous marriage

Matrimonial property acquired by a husband and a wife shall be held in joint ownership by the husband and the wife in respect of property acquired during the marriage.

24. Breakdown of marriage

The Bill recognizes that a marriage may breakdown with no blame on either spouse.

Where a marriage has broken down, court shall have jurisdiction in the matrimonial cause.

  • a local council court shall have jurisdiction where there is a matrimonial cause arising out of a customary marriage.
  • the High Court has original jurisdiction in all marital matters, including foreign marriages.

25. Separation

Separation of parties may be:

  1. by agreement, where the parties consent to suspend matrimonial rights and obligations; or
  2. by judicial separation, where a party petitions court for suspension of matrimonial rights and obligations on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

26. Divorce

A petition for divorce shall be on the sole ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

27. Distribution of property

Courts have power to distribute property at the dissolution of a marriage. In doing this, court shall:

(1). Have regard to protection of the interests of the bonifide purchaser for value without notice;

(2). Determine the property rights of each spouse and make an order for equitable distribution of jointly owned property;

(3). Distribute the property in equal shares. This shall not be less than one third of the value of Jointly acquired property;

(4). Ensure that a spouse who makes a contribution to non-matrimonial property is compensated.

28. Offenses and penalties

These include:

  1. jactitation of a marriage or false claim that one is married to another.
  2. Bigamy, which is the state of wilfully and knowingly contracting another marriage while another one is subsisting.
  3. False pretence of impediment to marriage by preventing a marriage from going ahead by asserting that there is a legal impediment to the marriage.
  4. Unlawfully performing a marriage ceremony with knowledge that one is not licensed to do so.
  5. Impersonation in a marriage with a false name or description with the intention to deceive the other party to the marriage.
  6. Fictitious marriage or going through with a marriage, with knowledge that it is void on any ground that the other party believes to be valid.
  7. Fraudulent pretence of marriage.
  8. Wilful neglect of duty to file or transmit a certificate of marriage.
  9. Making a false declaration of marriage.

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