Divorce is a painful process that often involves the separation of two individuals who were once bound together in matrimony. In addition to the emotional turmoil, there are also practical issues that must be addressed, such as the sharing of property acquired during the course of the marriage.
In Nigeria, this is a particularly complex issue due to the numerous cultural and legal factors that come into play. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the laws governing the sharing of property after divorce in Nigeria, including the factors that are considered in determining a fair and equitable distribution.
Whether you are going through a divorce or simply seeking to better understand the legal system in Nigeria, this post will provide valuable insights into the process of property sharing after divorce.
Legal Grounds For Divorce
There are grounds for divorce provided in the Matrimonial Causes Act, a book that contains the laws on marriage in Nigeria.
The major ground for divorce in Nigeria is where a marriage has broken down irretrievably. What constitutes an irretrievable breakdown of marriage as contained in section 15(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act?
- When the respondent (the party being sued) wilfully and persistently refuses to consummate the marriage.
- When the respondent commits adultery and the petitioner (the party filing for divorce) cannot tolerate it.
- When the respondent behaves in a way that the petitioner can no longer cohabit with the respondent.
- In a situation where the respondent deserts the petitioner for a continuous period of at least one year preceding the presentation of the petition.
- Where the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent does not object to a decree being granted.
- Where the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three years immediately preceding the presentation of the parties.
- Where 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.
- Where 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.
Unless one of the aforementioned occurs, a party’s petition for divorce will be struck out of court.
Settlement or sharing Of Properties in Nigeria after Divorce
In legal terms, Sharing of Properties refers to the Settlement of Property. This process involves the transfer of ownership of property from one party to the other, either individually owned or jointly owned.
Sharing of Properties is a crucial aspect of ancillary relief in divorce cases. It must be included in the divorce petition or as a response to the petition; otherwise, one party risks losing their claim to the property.
In this context, “properties” refer to all assets acquired by the couple before or during their marriage, except for children. It’s important to note that children are not considered property under the law, and therefore different rules apply to them.
Assets that fall under Sharing of Properties include land, houses, companies, cars, clothes, and more.
For couples married under tribal or village customs, women are typically not entitled to a share of the properties upon divorce. Even if a woman contributed to the acquisition or development of the property, she cannot request a portion of the asset as a result of her labor.
She is only entitled to divorce petition and a hearing, nothing more. This was a very common practise in the East until it was kicked against by activists fighting discrimination, supported by the celebrated case of Ukeje v. Ukeje.
Marriages that fall under the Act are deemed to be more equitable and just compared to other forms of marriage. This is because either party can petition the court to settle property disputes alongside the divorce case. Both partners have an equal entitlement to properties as long as they were involved in acquiring or developing them.
What’s interesting is that the welfare of any children from the marriage is taken into account when dividing properties. Typically, the distribution favors any child under the age of twenty-one, but there are exceptions where older children can also benefit.
The properties subject to distribution could belong to one or both spouses. In making a determination, the Court (i.e., the presiding judge) takes into account what is fair and equitable for both parties.
Furthermore, the Court considers each party’s financial capability, responsibilities, age, behavior, and the children’s position in life in determining the distribution ratio.
In conclusion, sharing of the property after divorce in Nigeria can be a complex and emotionally charged process. However, it is important to understand the legal framework that governs property division and seek the guidance of a qualified lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected.
Additionally, communication and negotiation between the parties involved can go a long way in making the process smoother and less contentious. Ultimately, the goal should be to reach a fair and equitable settlement that takes into account the contributions of both parties during the course of the marriage. By being informed and proactive, individuals going through a divorce can ensure that they receive their fair share of the property acquired during their marriage.