What you need to know:
The law sets out a tedious process prior to divorce, maybe to protect the sanctity of marriage.
Marriage is looked at as a nemesis of a proper family. Marriage must therefore be formal as prescribed by customs, the law or a special mixture of customs and the law. Therefore, cohabitation in our society is seen as immoral and largely unacceptable. The laws to cater for cohabiting couples have time and on hit a dead end in our legislature, with the religious institutions leading the opposition. Yet, African society believes a woman you have children with is your “wife” the legal provisions notwithstanding.
With the world evolving, more so in post-colonial Uganda, there is a blended form of celebration of marriages. I have questions about the importation of ideas in the celebration of customary marriages. When it comes to which customs to follow in cross-cultural customary marriages, it is settled law that the customs of the bride take precedence and are the ones to be followed.
It is highly evident that the need for entertainment in celebration of customary marriages has eroded many customs which form the core of customary marriages for example the Muko pulling all sorts of dance moves, hugging the one introducing him, throwing money, or in the extreme kissing at the introduction. The nature of dances while in a Kanzu or Gomesi or Ekikubiro, name it, highlight the erosion of values.
By their nature, customary marriages are potentially polygamous but this does not in any way mean, they are polygamous.
There are some monogamous customary marriages. It was just that at the introduction of the Marriage Act by the colonialists in 1904, there was never an application or understanding of the conduct and nature of African marriages while the colonialists imposed their colonial or English understanding of marriage. But the law is what it is. In Uganda today there are the following marriages, Islamic, Customary, Civil or Church and Hindu Marriages. All these have their respective laws.
There has been a misunderstanding when it comes to customary and Church marriages or civil marriages. One may have a Kukyala and then Kwanjula that is in itself a complete legal customary marriage, however, it is potentially polygamous. The law on customary marriages allows for the conversion of that marriage into a monogamous marriage. The practice in many places of worship even when it is not a legal condition precedent, is that a traditional/customary marriage be celebrated prior to the church marriage.
Marriage has consequences beyond the vows taken. It can determine the rights of the parties involved in life or in death. It limits the actions of those within the institution of marriage. It extends to property rights like land. It also attracts sanctions both civil and criminal for those that interfere with it in terms of contracting another marriage while there is one subsisting.
The bitter reality is that some marriages work out and some fail. A certain reverend while conducting marriage counselling defines marriage as the institution in which those in it want to leave and many who are not in it want to join.
Whereas, the process for celebration of the marriage is simple as per the law; two adults consenting to contract a marriage along with their witnesses but getting out is a hurdle. The law sets out a tedious process prior to divorce, maybe to protect the sanctity of marriage. The legal processes are brutal and tough on all parties. When issues (children) are involved, it does not make it any easier. Property in many divorce petitions and proceedings take centre stage. It is painful seeing people who once loved each other tear themselves apart.
To conclude, marriage has consequences. It is a beautiful institution and just like roses are, thorns are part of it. Just like some people want to join, some want to leave. At the end of the day, it is happiness that matters.
The choice to leave the marriage institution at any time should be made simple and easy by the law and the institutions just like it is to join the marriage institution.
Mr Ivan Bwowe is a lawyer. [email protected]