Divorce process in Nigeria: steps to take if you want to end your marriage
Divorce is an unpleasant fact of life. When marriages come to an end, couples might seek a divorce. Before we delve deeper into the divorce process in Nigeria, let’s define divorce.
What is divorce?
Divorce is the dissolution of marriage by a judge. It also involves the restoration of the couple to the status of singlehood and reorganizing/termination of their legal duties to each other.
In other words, divorce is the process of dissolving the ties and bonds of matrimony between a married couple under the rule of law.
The divorce process in Nigeria
In Nigeria there are three different types of marriage:
• Customary/traditional marriage: regulated by the traditions and customs of the people.
• Islamic marriage: regulated by Sharia law
• Statutory marriage: regulated by statutes and governed by the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act CAP 220 LFN 1990
The divorce process in Nigeria is governed by unique laws. The kind of marriage the couple had will determine the kind of laws that will govern their divorce. For instance, only the laws of a Sharia court can dissolve an Islamic marriage. On the other hand, statutes govern the divorce process of a statutory marriage.
All the laws have one thing in common; they do not accept ‘no fault’ divorces (or dissolution on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences". To get a divorce in Nigeria, the couple has to provide and prove acceptable grounds or reasons.
Acceptable grounds for divorce process in Nigeria
• Absence of the spouse (caused by disappearance, death or strange circumstances)
• Separation for a minimum of two years (especially if the couple has lived apart)
• Adultery (infidelity)
• Sexless marriage
• Failure of either of the party to comply with court order
• Unreasonable behavior
A detailed guide of the process
1) Filing a Petition
According to Section 54(1) Matrimonial Causes Act, every divorce process in Nigeria starts with a petition. Either of the spouses can write and file a petition to start the divorce proceedings.
The divorce petition should include the following details:
• Petition or suit number
• Identification of parties and status
• Full names, profession and address(es) of parties to the proceeding
• Wife’s maiden name
• Date and place of the marriage
• An acknowledgement that the petitioner and spouse had dwelt in a state or town for a particular period prior to the filing of the divorce petition
• Reasons (or grounds) for divorce
• Which child(ren) will live with the custodial parents?
• Bill payments and settlement of general financial needs
• A statement indicating the petitioner’s wishes for settling child custody, visitation finances, dividing property, and other matters concerning to the dissolution of the marriage
• Which spouse intends to physically take custody of the child(ren), if any
• Proposed child visitation timetable for the non-custodial spouse
• Child support payments
• Alimony payments
• Address for service of respondents
2) Divorce petition is served to the respondent
After drafting and filing the divorce petition, the bailiff will deliver the contents of the petition to the spouse. The spouse (also called the respondent) will be granted a specific period to respond to the petition. If the spouse declines to respond (or if the spouse cannot be contacted), a professional can be brought into the picture to facilitate the delivery of the petition.
3) Response to the divorce petition
When the other party (your spouse) responds to the petition, the court commence the process of hearing the case openly. If necessary, both parties can invite witnesses to give evidence.
It is in your best interest for your spouse to reply before the court delivers its judgment.
4) The concluding phases of the divorce
The final phases of the divorce process involves the following process:
• The judge delivers his/her final judgment on the case
• The spouses reveal detailed information of their assets, liabilities,
revenue and expenditures
• If both parties agree on the existing terms and conditions of the divorce, the final stages of the dissolution is faster and less complicated
• A Decree Nisi is granted to show that the judges are satisfied with the divorce. A Decree Nisi is not just a court order that dissolves the union, but it also sets the next step in motion. Three months after this initial decree, the Decree Nisi automatically becomes a Decree Absolute
The judge is allowed to exercise judgment when granting child custody to either of the spouses. This decision is always made in the best interest of the child.
The court judge may order one spouse to make alimony and child support payments. In some cases, the court can make and order for the sharing of property.
Final thoughts on the divorce process in Nigeria
Getting a divorce in Nigeria can be a harrowing experience. In some cases, it disorients the couple and puts them in difficult situations that muddle up their housing contracts, finances, work schedules and household responsibilities.
Legal experts advise divorcing couples to employ the services of a lawyer. This outline and enumeration of the divorce process is supposed to paint a clearer picture for people who are considering getting a divorce.
Resource: Legal Dictionary
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