Oct 20, 2017

What to prove to get a divorce in Nigeria | Adedunmade Onibokun

Official statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics suggest that divorce is exceedingly uncommon in Nigeria with just 0.2% of men and 0.3% of women having legally untied the knot and well under 1% of couples admit to being separated. But as a Legal practitioner, I seek not to agree with this statistic especially as I witness many divorce proceedings in family courts and the newspapers are regularly awash with reports of petitions for dissolution for marriages.

Moreover, it has been argued in several quarters that the above statistics do not put into consideration the number of marriages conducted under traditional law and also Islamic law.

Under Nigerian law, a statutory marriage can only be dissolved by a court order and divorce is guided by the Matrimonial Causes Act. It is also worthy to note that under Nigerian law, marriage is between a man and a woman, as Nigerian law does not recognize same sex marriages or unions. The law also further provides a 14 year jail term, for anyone who participates in same – sex unions or relationships.

With regard to petitions for dissolution of marriage, Section 15(1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act provides that, a petition may be presented to the court by either party to the marriage upon the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Submitting a petition for dissolution of marriage does not however automatically mean that the divorce will be granted, as the petitioner must be able to prove sufficient grounds to warrant the prayer being granted. If the petitioner fails to prove this, even if the divorce is desired by both parties, the petition will be dismissed.

The grounds that a petitioner must prove to show that the marriage has broken down irretrievably are stated in Section 15(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, they include –

a.      That the other partner (i.e. respondent) has willfully and persistently refused to consummate the marriage, meaning that the other spouse has refused to have sexual intercourse since the celebration of the marriage.  

b.     That since the marriage the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent.

c.      That since the marriage the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.

d.     That the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least one year immediately preceding the presentation of the petition;

e.      That the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent does not object to a decree being granted;

f.       That the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition;

g.     That the other party to the marriage has, for a period of not less than one year, failed to comply with a decree or restitution of conjugal rights made under this act;

h.     That the other party to the marriage has been absent from the petitioner for such time and in such circumstances as to provide reasonable grounds for presuming that he or she is dead.

The dissolution of traditional or customary marriage is however not as stringent as that under the marriage act. A customary law marriage can be dissolved without judicial pronouncement or intervention.

For more information about how to get a divorce, you can talk to a lawyer or send a mail to the undersigned.

Adedunmade Onibokun
Principal Partner
Adedunmade Onibokun & Co.


  1. Once, I've read somewhere the following phrase: "if you're married, do anything to stay married - if you're single, do anything to stay single". What do you think about these words? I think that divorce may be a good idea only in some really unusual and difficult cases. If you are in bad, abusive marriage then divorce is the best choice for sure!

  2. Dave Mejias has won precedent setting victories for his clients in cases involving custody, maintenance and child support, and overturning post nuptial and pre-nuptial agreements. His firm has also been recognized by the Coalition against Domestic Violence for continuing to fight for the rights of victims of domestic violence related matters in Long Island, Glen Cove, Nassau and Suffolk County.