What you need to know about Marriage and Divorce in Nigeria


The concept of Marriage and divorce affects Nigerian women more than it affects men due to the deep rooted culture that all women should be married leaving women with little or no choice as to what direction or dimension their lives should take. Hence more women are trapped in a hellish or short life as a result of being stuck in abusive marriages. And divorce or dissolution of marriage is considered to be an abomination because it is perceived to whittle away the sanctity of marriage.

In some traditions and religions, divorce is done by means as simple as a unilateral action of returning the bride price, by simply professing divorce by word of mouth three times (as is seen under Islamic law), returning her to her parents’ house, or deserting her by simply walking away from the marriage. Sometimes abandoning the wife with children who she must cater for by herself whether she is capable financially or not or whether she is old enough to cater for them or not (in the case of child marriage).

The “Matrimonial Causes Act” created a window into the chance for a life of quality as against being trapped in a mental and/or physical hell of an abusive marriage. While the courts recognise the fact that marriage is not an institution that should entered into carelessly or recklessly, the courts have also set a check and balance system by taking into consideration the fact the human beings are not infallible. For instance, marriages could go horribly wrong to the extent of causing grievous harm mentally physically or both; and the prevalence of child marriages in some regions of Nigeria may necessitate the requisite dissolution or nullity of marriage.

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It is for this reason the courts have set up a check and balance between the sanctity of marriage and the need to live a life of quality and dignity



First of all, know the type of marriage you had: Customary marriage (Traditional marriage: marriage contracted under the customs and traditions of the bride’s family), Islamic marriage (according to Islamic laws) and Statutory marriage (Marriage under the Act: marriage contracted and registered at a marriage registry or in a licensed place of worship in the presence of an ordained minister.)

Knowing your type of marriage determines your choice of a court to appeal: Divorce petition for statutory marriages is filed at the High Court, while divorce petition in a customary marriage is done in the Customary Court.

The next thing is to go for a lawyer. Be guided with the following when choosing a lawyer:
(1) The experience of the lawyer in your type of marriage
(2) If the level of his knowledge of the laws (especially marriage laws) meets your requirements.

(3) If he is more interested in listening to you and helping you first rather than just fulfilling his own needs.

The next thing is to understand the basis upon which you want to file your divorce. According to “The Matrimonial Causes Act Chapter 220, Section 15 and 16 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria of 1990”, a petition for dissolving a marriage can be filed by either party. According to this act, there are eight reasons upon which you can file for divorce in Nigeria:
(1) The other party has intentionally refused to give you sexual right in the marriage. That is there no consummation of the marriage.
(2) The accused against whom the petition has been filed has committed betrayal and you cannot tolerate or live with the person again.
(3) There has been persistent unreasonable behaviour (e.g. violence, assault, drug use or excessive alcohol use, acts that put the other party consistently harm’s way) since the marriage and you cannot continue in the marriage again.
(4) If your partner has abandoned you for at least a period of one year prior to the time of the submission of divorce request. It is also called Abandonment.
(5) The two of you have been separated for at least a period of two years prior to the date of the filing of divorce without objection from the other party.
(6) The two of you have lived separately for a continuous period of at least three years before the date of the submission of the request for divorce.
(7) Failure to comply with a proclamation or order made by a court on resolving previous marital issues or rights.
(8) If the other party cannot be found and is presumed dead with substantial reasons to believe so.

If the court is satisfied that you have met one or more of these reasons and that the marriage is beyond reconciliation, then the divorce petition will be considered.


After you have completed the above steps with the help of your lawyer, you can file for divorce in the right court. After filing for divorce, the court will serve your partner papers and ask him/her to respond. Now the divorce proceedings can begin.

Before a divorce certificate in Nigeria is issued, the settlement is one of the first things the court will also have to rule on. If the marriage produced a child (children), the child’s custody and care are also one of the issues the Court will need to settle.

Divorce proceedings can last for more than a year. The timing depends on the level of cooperation of both parties. Also, such conditions as children custody and asset settlements can influence the duration of the divorce process.

Make sure you have all the necessary documents and make copies of them. Before you file for divorce, make sure you carefully think about your decision.