So, recently we got a legal query through our free online legal platform from a lady (let’s call her Lola) who was getting married the next weekend and her caterer had basically bailed on her. The caterer had previously agreed to provide food at this wedding, but then called a few days to the event to say she couldn’t make it for health reasons. Apparently, the real reason was she got another job for that same day that was going to pay her up to 3 times what Lola’s wedding was paying. So, like a ‘sharp’ Nigerian business person, she decided to just dump Lola’s event.
Anyway, Lola wanted to know what she could do about it and if she had any legal redress. Long story short, we gave her some information and then referred her to a lawyer in our network who agreed to take it further.
This exchange, therefore, inspired us to share this article for the benefit of BellaNaija readers. We decided to do a brief hit list of legal things you need to consider when you are getting married (some obvious, some not so obvious).
How well do you know your partner? And no, we don’t mean the biblical ‘knowing’, we don’t really care about that. We mean how much do you know about your partner’s background?
Should you do a background check on your partner? No, we are not going as far as saying you should hire a private investigator to do a check on your partner (although we are aware of some companies that perform this service in Nigeria now…), what we are saying is that you should have some measure of understanding about your partner’s criminal or financial background at least!
If you are an intending bride/husband reading this, you might say, ‘I don’t care what he/she did in the past, we are getting married now and looking to the future’. Although it is a noble way to view marriage, it is, unfortunately, a very naïve way to look at what is effectively a contract which you will be entering into for the rest of your life.
For instance, if your partner has a criminal history, it means that he could potentially not be allowed to travel to certain countries (depending on the nature of the offence). That would affect future family vacations. Also, it means that he/she will be unable to be eligible for certain jobs/positions. For example, if the offence is one in which fraud was an element, he/she would probably not be able to work in financial institutions etc.
Now you might say, ‘what’s my own with where he/she can work? I have my own money and we are doing fine financially for now’. You would be right, but you would also be missing the point. The point is that, this is something which is a critical piece of information that might affect your future finances. So, this is quite important.
Apart from things like travel and jobs, if your future partner does indeed have a criminal past, then the nature of the crime is also important. While we are not saying you should not marry someone solely because of a criminal record, some crimes should give you serious cause to pause and rethink your decision – especially violent crimes like murder, armed robbery and rape, drug offences, child sexual offences etc.
With respect to knowing your future partner’s financial background, imagine your potential husband/wife has heavy personal debts which he/she is servicing, and 2 years into the marriage they begin to default on the payments, since they are personal debts what this means is that any joint assets owned by you both could potentially be at risk (depending on the nature of the property ownership and the terms of the debt transaction).
Once again you might say, ‘LawPàdí, who cares about this? I am marrying my spouse the way they are, even if they have financial baggage’, and once again you would be right, but once again you would be missing the point. We are not saying you should not marry people with debts, in fact if your potential spouse is self-employed or has their own business it is more likely that they have debts. The point we are making is that you have to know the amount of debt (or at least have an idea of the scale), and you should know what type of debt. Is it a personal debt? is it tied to a limited liability company? has he/she decided to be a guarantor for someone else’s debts? Etc. Those are the things you need to know the answers to, not just ‘how many children do you want to have’ and ‘what is your genotype’ (although those are important questions as well!)
One of the most popular articles on our website (by traffic) is on whether you can sue for breach of promise to marry. Most people that stumble on it think it’s a joke. How can you sue someone who says they are not interested in getting married again? But that’s the law people, if you promise someone that you will marry them, and then change your mind, the person can sue you.
Obviously it is not as cut and dried as that. There are a number of things that need to be proven, and the remedy the court will provide isn’t to order the person to marry you, nope! The court will not force an unwilling partner into marriage, what the law will do though is award damages when the suing partner can prove that this cancellation of the marriage plans has resulted in loss to him/her.
In a nutshell, in order to sue someone for a breach of promise to marry, a couple of requirements must be met:
- There must in fact be a promise to marry – this goes beyond mere ‘discussions about the future’…the best way to show this is by an actual proposal of marriage (as in ring on finger) or acceptance of a marriage proposal.
- The other party must have reneged (fancy way of saying ‘changed their mind’) on the promise – therefore a mere postponement would not in normal circumstances be enough for you to bring a case. However, in some exceptional circumstances, when there has been consistent postponement and it is clear that your partner has no intention to actually go on with the marriage, then the court may find that this is ‘constructive breach’.
If the aggrieved party can prove both points above, he/she can bring a claim for damages. The award for damages is at the discretion of the court. The court may grant damages for things like: financial loss resulting from the breach, (expenses already incurred towards the wedding ceremony – wedding gowns, renting of the event hall, hiring a wedding planner etc) Also, damages for injury to the health of the aggrieved party and/or his/her reputation, for example some aggrieved party may require professional counselling after the break up etc.
Therefore, the legal point to note here is that, you can’t just propose/agree to marry someone and then decide that you are not interested again, or actually, you can…but this could lead to legal liability and financial damages.
Planning the Wedding
Now, we are getting to the tricky part. This covers all the actual wedding planning, and it is the most risk prone area. The average wedding has a lot of moving parts – caterers, photographers, MCs, DJs, security guards, mixologists (fancy word for people who make cocktails), wedding planners, event decorators etc.
If you look at a wedding as a project (and more and more brides/grooms are doing this), you will see that all these people (vendors) represent various risks, and are in fact individual business arrangements which make up the entire wedding project.
So picture this: you are going into a business deal worth say N2 million (for argument sake let’s say that is how much the wedding is going to cost), would you go into it without a contract? Or agreeing some certain terms and expectations? No, you wouldn’t, so why would you have a wedding with so many vendors and not have individual contracts for each person that sets out the terms of the relationship, your expectations? What would happen if any of the terms are breached?
Having contracts for all your vendors seems like a no-brainer for us, but unfortunately a lot of people are not doing it.
A number of vendors and suppliers are being proactive and signing contracts with couples when they agree to be part of their weddings, but so many weddings have absolutely no paperwork, no contracts, nothing…everything is run on hope and the grace of God! When that happens we get issues like that of Lola above.
So what should you do? Hire a lawyer before your wedding to draft contracts for all your vendors? Well, that would be ideal, but honestly not very feasible. You would only succeed in making your lawyer another vendor for your wedding. Weddings are expensive enough without adding legal fees!
The best case scenario is that all your vendors should have their own contracts for when you engage them as vendors for your wedding. Any vendor who doesn’t have their own contracts or terms of business/service is clearly not a very serious vendor and is probably just doing it as a hobby…do you want a hobbyist as a vendor at your wedding? Probably not!
So, the steps you should follow:
- The first thing you should do when you meet a vendor is to ask them for their terms of business/service or contract. If they don’t have one, then that should raise a red flag in your head.
- If they have one, the next step is to make sure that you read it well and ensure that it covers all the things that you have agreed verbally. Most likely the terms of business/service will be drafted to favour the vendor so you should read it well and make sure your interests are adequately protected.
- If they have a Terms of Business/Service or contract and you feel that your needs and rights are adequately captured and protected in the document, then you should get some measure of comfort and sign with them (provided they can also perform the service o!…no point if they have contract and don’t know how to do the work you are hiring and paying them for).
If you make note of these steps we can guarantee that your wedding and marriage will be more predictable from a legal risk perspective…having a totally LIT wedding ceremony and a happy married life is up to you!
We wish you all the very best!
PS- we are trying to decide whether to help vendors and intending couples by creating template contracts, but we want to make sure people will find them useful. So can you please click here for a quick survey we are conducting? Thanks!
We hope you have found this information helpful. Please note that this information is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. No lawyer-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. It is not intended to substitute for the advice of a qualified lawyer. If you require legal advice, please consult with a qualified lawyer.
Photo Credit: Nanditha Rao | Dreamstime.com