Divorce is a legal and emotional process that dissolves the marital union between two individuals. In Nigeria, as in many other countries, divorce is regulated by laws that outline the grounds for divorce and the procedures to follow. This article explores the divorce process and the grounds for divorce in Nigeria, shedding light on the legal framework and practical aspects of ending a marriage.

Grounds for Divorce in Nigeria

The Matrimonial Causes Act is the primary legislation governing divorce in Nigeria. According to this law, there is only one ground for the desolation of a marriage. This ground can be established in several ways, which are:

  1. Adultery: Adultery is one of the most commonly cited grounds for divorce in Nigeria. If one spouse can prove that the other has engaged in sexual relations outside the marriage, it can be a compelling reason to seek a divorce.
  2. Unreasonable Behavior: This ground includes physical or mental cruelty, addiction, or any behavior that makes it intolerable for the petitioner to live with their spouse. It's essential to provide evidence that the behavior has negatively affected the marriage.
  3. Desertion: If a spouse has left the other for a continuous period of at least two years without their consent and without any intention of returning, this can be a valid ground for divorce.
  4. Separation: A divorce can also be sought if the spouses have lived separately for a continuous period of at least two years, and both agree to the divorce.
  5. Absence: If one spouse has been absent for at least seven years, and there is no information on whether they are alive or dead, the other spouse may petition for divorce.
  6. Non-Consummation: If the marriage has not been consummated (i.e., no sexual intercourse has occurred), either spouse can seek an annulment rather than a divorce. An annulment declares the marriage null and void from the beginning.

The divorce process typically begins with one party, known as the petitioner, filing a petition for divorce at the appropriate High Court in the state where either spouse resides or where the marriage took place. The petition outlines the ground and reason(s) or fact(s)for the divorce. It also provides details about the marriage, including the names of the parties, date of marriage, and any children from the marriage. The petitioner must also attach relevant documents, such as the marriage certificate and any evidence supporting the facts relied upon to prove the ground for the divorce.

The divorce process in Nigeria typically follows these steps:

  1. Consultation with a Legal Expert: Before initiating the divorce proceedings, it is advisable to consult with a legal expert, such as a lawyer, to understand the legal requirements, implications, and options available.
  2. Filing a Petition: State High Courts and High Court of Federal Capital Territory have jurisdiction to hear a matter concerning divorce therefore an individual (Petitioner) seeking to divorce his/her spouse must file a divorce petition in the appropriate court. The petition should include details about the grounds for divorce and any claims related to custody, property, and financial support.
  3. Court Proceedings: Both parties may need to attend court hearings to present their cases and provide evidence to support their claims. The court will consider all evidence and arguments before making a judgment.
  4. Decree Nisi: If the court is satisfied with the grounds presented and the divorce seems appropriate, it may issue a decree nisi. This is an interim order that allows the divorce to proceed.
  5. Decree Absolute: After a waiting period of 3 months, the court may issue a decree absolute or within a period of 28 days where there are children of less than 16 years and it can be shown that proper arrangement has been made for their welfare, which finalizes the divorce. At this stage, the marriage is officially dissolved.

Child Custody and Property Division: Child custody and the division of property are significant issues in divorce cases. The court will consider the best interests of the children when determining custody and may also oversee the division of assets and liabilities between the parties.


The divorce process in Nigeria is guided by the Matrimonial Causes Act, and it offers several grounds on which a spouse can seek a divorce. Understanding the legal framework and following the proper procedures is crucial when ending a marriage in Nigeria. Additionally, consulting with legal experts and exploring alternative dispute-resolution methods can help make the process smoother and less adversarial for both parties involved.


Matrimonial Causes Act
J.A Robinson

Originally published October 14, 2023

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.