Dissolution of marriage is a formal, legal ending of a marriage or marital union by a Court of law. It is otherwise known as divorce.
It is trite that for a marriage to undergo divorce proceedings in Court, such marriage must be a statutory marriage legally conducted and evidenced by a valid Marriage Certificate. A statutory marriage is one governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act ('the Act')1 and includes marriages conducted in a licensed place of worship, a registrar's office and marriage under special license.
The Act confers jurisdiction on the State High Court to determine the petition for dissolution of marriage.
GROUNDS FOR THE DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE
Under the Act, the sole ground for the dissolution of marriage is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.2 However, the petitioner must prove one or more of the facts below to establish the ground.
The facts are as follows:
a. that the respondent has wilfully and persistently refused to consummate 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 manner 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 a time and in such circumstances as to provide reasonable grounds for presuming that the Respondent is dead.3
When the above reasons have been successfully proved by the Petitioner, the Court can make an order for a decree nisi, which is often contained in the judgment of the Court. The order automatically becomes absolute within a period of 3 months in the absence of any appeal from the affected party. Thus, after the decree nisi has become absolute, there is no right to appeal the decision of the Court. More so, where any of the parties died before the 3 months elapses, it shall not become absolute.
Therefore, the marriage is completely dissolved where a decree absolute is made by the Court. The effect of dissolving a statutory marriage is that a party to the marriage can marry again as if the marriage had been resolved by death.
It must be emphasised that a petition for dissolution of marriage will not succeed if the petitioner has condoned any of the above facts.
INSTITUTING PROCEEDINGS FOR DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE
It is worth mentioning that the petition for the dissolution of marriage cannot be brought where the marriage is under 2 (two) years unless the leave of the Court is sought. However, the leave is not automatic as the petitioner must establish exceptional hardship and exceptional depravity on his/her part.
Despite the 2 (two) years rule exception, there are instances where the rule would not apply. They include:
- Wilful and persistent refusal to consummate the marriage;
- Adultery since the marriage and intolerability on the part of the Petitioner; and
- Commission of rape, sodomy or bestiality.
RATE OF DIVORCE IN NIGERIA
In 2016, official statistics suggested that the dissolution of marriage in Nigeria was uncommon. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, just 0.2% of men and 0.3% of women had legally dissolved their marriage. However, there is no doubt that the above statistical data is inapplicable in present times. According to a report in 2018, separation rates in Nigeria recorded a 14 percent increase. The present statistics mirror a rather negative trend.4
In a report published in 2018, a total of 3,000 divorce cases were recorded in Badagry, Lagos. Also, in a 2019 report titled 'Deciphering the high rate of Divorce in Nigeria', Kano state alone had over 1 million registered divorcees.5
More so, in a news report, it was learnt that a visit to the Social Development Secretariat, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) revealed that a total of 20 to 30 cases of divorce are reported at one of the offices daily.6
Furthermore, records at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court showed that over 2,000 divorce cases were filed between the year 2019 and February 2020, with an average of 30 cases being entertained every day, even as the Court is trying hard to reconcile couples through arbitration panels. Findings further revealed that the figure is higher at the Customary Courts, the Alkali and the Sharia Customary Courts within the FCT.7
At this juncture, it is important to point out that divorce is not entirely bad. In many instances, it has been a relief to a dysfunctional or unproductive marriage. However, if its possible to prevent divorce, it is advisable to do so.
1 Cap. M7 Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004
2 Section 15(1) of Matrimonial Causes Act.
3 Section 15(2) of the Act.
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