How to get a Divorce in Nigeria
This article is for people who have decided that they want to get a divorce. Simple. This article is not meant to give advice on whether or not you should try to make your marriage work, or go to marriage counselling. No. The point of the article is to state as clearly as possible what you need to consider when you have made the decision to get a divorce.
Under Nigerian law, a marriage can only be ended in 2 ways – by the death of one of the partners, or by an order of the court.
The divorce process is the process to follow in order to get a court order to dissolve a marriage. Unlike in some countries where a divorce can be a relatively quick process, it would appear that the law in Nigeria has been made unduly cumbersome (rightly so in some people’s opinion), to ensure that marriage contracts and divorces are not entered into willy-nilly.
The first thing you should know is that you will need the services of a lawyer to get a divorce. Under Nigerian divorce law, a lawyer has to represent you in court in order to bring your case for divorce. Now, we could end this article at this point, and say, if you need a divorce, then go out and get a lawyer. However, that would be defeating the purpose of this article, what we want to do is explain in some more detail what the divorce process entails, so you know what to expect.
Step 1- you need to understand what type of marriage you have. The divorce process depends to a large extent on how the marriage was solemnised. In present day Nigeria, most of the marriages are registered (i.e. you and your partner have a Marriage licence from a Marriage Registry), these sorts of marriages are referred to as marriages under the Act, and we shall focus on this type of marriage in this article.
Step 2 – you need to understand why you want a divorce, what is the reason for the divorce. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act (the law which governs the divorce process in Nigeria), there are certain stated grounds which can be used to dissolve a marriage. They include things like adultery, living apart for a period of time, habitual drunkenness, criminal acts etc. You need to ensure that your reason for divorce can fit into one of the grounds to prove divorce. You can read more about the grounds of divorce here. However, don’t worry too much about this now, once you speak to a lawyer he/she will listen to your case and advise you properly on which ground of divorce your reason may be able to fit under.
Step 3 – You need to begin to think about what you want out of the divorce. This will largely depend on the specific situations of your marriage. Things you should begin to consider are:
- Who will have custody of children?
- Will your spouse pay for maintenance of the children?
- If you are unemployed, do you want maintenance from your spouse? (you will need to prove why the court should grant this)
- How will the property be shared? Do you believe you are 100% entitled to certain property because you paid for them? Etc.
These are some of the things you need to be thinking about, but again, don’t worry about it too much, a good lawyer will be able to elicit this information from you and ensure all the bases are covered and you are adequately protected and you get what you deserve.
The Divorce Process
Step 1 – The divorce process officially commences when your lawyer files what is known as a petition for divorce in the High Court. This bundle of documents basically states your case- who you are married to, where you got married, how long you have been married for, why you want a divorce, what you want from the divorce, and any evidence to back this up. This is where the lawyer begins to earn their fee. They will draft and file all the necessary court processes and ensure you have put forward your petition in a logical and professional manner. If you are the person who filed the petition you are referred to as the petitioner, and your spouse is the respondent.
Step 2– Once the document is filed in the court, it will be given a file number in the court system (the Family court division), and then the contents of your petition will be served on (delivered to) your spouse (and his lawyer). Your spouse will be given a certain number of days (it varies based on which State your petition is filed) to respond to your petition. The content of the response will depend on if your spouse also wants a divorce.
Step 3 – Once your spouse has replied to your petition, the courts will then hear the case in open court. If there are any witnesses that need to be called to corroborate any evidence, they will appear in court.
Step 4 – If the judge is satisfied that a divorce should be granted, then it grants what is known as a ‘decree nisi’, basically that the marriage should be dissolved. However, the decree nisi does not mean that it has been dissolved, you will have to wait for another 3 months, and then the decree nisi will become a ‘decree absolute’.
Step 5 – the judge has the power to grant custody of any children to either spouse, and can make orders for the payment of maintenance (for the spouse and children), and also make orders for the settlement of any property of the marriage.
The above is a very general overview of the divorce process. As each marriage will have its own specific set of facts, the process will vary, and that is why it is important to seek the advice and counsel of a qualified lawyer before embarking on a divorce.
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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.
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