02 Jun Mercy Blanc Aidoo V The Administrator Of The Estate Of Selwyn Okoe Boye; Suit No: H1/163/2022 Delivered On 4th May 2023 (CA)
“A funeral brochure does not necessarily make someone a wife. Once the assertion of lawful marriage to the deceased has been denied or challenged, she carried the burden to prove the contrary”.
The Appellant issued a writ at the High Court seeking among other things, an order directed at the Respondents to render an account of all the sums of money received by them as Administrators of the Estate of the late Selwyn Okoe Boye; and an inventory of all the properties, of the deceased which had come into their custody by reason of their administration of the Estate of the deceased. The Appellant also sought an order directing the Respondents to distribute or deliver up such properties as are due her from the estate of the deceased.
The Respondents also counterclaimed against the Appellant for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Appellant from interfering with the administration of the estate of the deceased.
The key issue for determination by the trial Court was whether the deceased at the time of his death was lawfully or validly married to the Appellant.
The Respondents averred that although the Appellant was once married to the deceased, they were divorced before the demise of their late father. Therefore, since there was no surviving spouse at the time of death, the family nominated the children of the deceased (the Respondents) to apply for Letters of Administration.
The Appellant on the other hand maintained that she was the wife of the deceased even at the time of his death and argued that upon the demise of the deceased, his family recognized her as the wife in the funeral brochure. She argued that all the requirements of a valid customary marriage were satisfied and she was a valid wife even at the time of the deceased’s death.
The trial court held that there was no valid customary law marriage between the Appellant and the deceased. The Court found that the Appellant did not adduce any further evidence besides the funeral brochure to support her assertion of being a wife.
On appeal against this decision, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court and dismissed the appeal.
The Court reiterated the four essentials of a valid customary law marriage as enunciated by Ollenu J in the case of Yaotey v Quaye as follows:
(a) Agreement by the parties to live together as husband and wife must be established
(b) consent of the man’s family that he should have the woman to be his wife must be sought and given;
(c) consent of the family of the woman that she should have the man for her husband must be given, and
(d) the parties must consummate the relationship by co-habitation.
The Court emphasized that the presence of all four essentials must be real and not notional.
The Court found that although the Appellant lived together with the deceased before his death she could not successfully prove the existence of a valid marriage. The Court also noted that although the Appellant’s name and picture appeared in the funeral brochure, the funeral brochure does not necessarily make one a wife. The Court noted that once the assertion of lawful marriage to the deceased had been denied or challenged, the Appellant had to adduce sufficient evidence to prove the contrary. The contention that the funeral brochure made her a wife runs contrary to settled principles or incidents of valid customary marriage. Sole reliance on a funeral brochure cannot establish the existence of a valid customary law marriage.
Insight: When the status of a person as a valid spouse is challenged, one must lead sufficient evidence to prove the existence of such marriage either by calling witnesses, producing documents, or leading some other credible evidence. The appearance of the name of a person in a funeral brochure alone is not conclusive evidence of the existence of a valid marriage.