Court Makes Landmark Ruling on Marriages

  • A convoy at a wedding in Kenya
    An undated photo of hire vehicles at a wedding in Kenya
  • A court in Eldama Ravine, Baringo County made a landmark ruling on cohabitation, in a case whereby a woman was seeking to bury a man she had lived with for 30 years. 

    Principal Magistrate J.L. Tamar granted Alice Wangui the right to bury her husband after her mother-in-law Damaris Mwihaki Njatha sought restraining orders against her. 

    The magistrate declared their 30-year cohabitation a marriage. 

    The woman’s in-laws had disowned her and also denied knowledge of her marriage to the deceased teacher. 

    A garden wedding set-up.
    A garden wedding set-up.

    Principal Magistrate J.L. Tamar ruled that there was little proof of a customary marriage, but added, there existed a marriage through long cohabitation.

    “Consequently, the defence and counter-claim succeed. The defendant is the deceased’s spouse and the proper person to bury the body,” the magistrate said, adding, the in-laws are free to attend the burial. 

    The widow had argued that she married the teacher traditionally in 1990 after the two dated for two years. Her lawyer added that she was introduced to her in-laws as a wife in a private ceremony and later paid Ksh 10,000 as part of dowry money. 

    The ruling joins other landmark judgements such as the court allowing couples who marry through a civil process to divorce at any time.

    In the ruling, Justice Reuben Nyakundi declared section 66 (1) of the Marriage Act that stopped such couples from divorcing within three years unconstitutional.

    In July 2019, a court in Embu further declared that married people cannot use photographs as evidence of their union in property row cases.

    Another court further ruled that divorcing parents will both share the burden of bringing up their children equally. 

    The ruling impacts future divorce cases whereby parents differ on responsibilities and seek to impose a burden on their former partner. 

    Congregants at a wedding in a church in Kenya