Before I begin, I’d like to issue an important disclaimer. This post does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. If any of these issues apply to you, please seek legal advice and support as needed. With that being said, let’s get into it.
It is not uncommon to hear of marriages crashing coming to an abrupt end in Nigeria due to a myriad of “seemingly” little mistakes, excuses and misrepresentation.
Ask the average Nigerian what they know about separation, divorce, nullity of marriage, jactitation of marriage and how these words mean to their peculiar relationship status and you’ll get deafening silence. This is because of the stigma that has shrouded anyone who dares to leave the holy matrimony and I think this is surprising considering that the divorce rates in Nigeria are high.
The issue of domestic violence has been a topic that has been given the laundromat treatment. It had been the norm to suffer the victim and leaving the abuser to God. Having an abuser as a spouse or co-parent of your children is a situation that ought to be handled delicately and intently. Stories abound of fists and final breaths that it has become imperative that a married victim of domestic violence know that there are remedies to leave the marriage.
The Matrimonial Causes Act states succinctly that the court hearing a petition for a decree of dissolution of a marriage shall hold the marriage to have broken down irretrievably if, but only if, the petitioner satisfies the Court of one or more of the following facts:
- that the respondent has wilfully and persistently refused to consummate the marriage
- that since the marriage, the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent
- that since the marriage, the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent
- that the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least one year immediately preceding the presentation of the petitioner
- that the parties 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
- that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition
- that the other party to the marriage has for a period of not less than one year failed to comply with a degree or restitution of conjugal rights made under this act
- 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
Okay, lighten up, I am not about to bore with some legal jargon more than the usual but it is important that I mentioned other grounds for a divorce petition recognized by the Nigerian Law.
Generally, the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act states that proceedings for a decree of dissolution of marriage shall not be instituted within two years after the date of the marriage except by leave of the Court and the leave of the Court will not be granted except on the ground that to refuse to grant the leave would impose exceptional hardship on the Applicant or that the case is one involving exceptional depravity on the part of the other party of the marriage.1. What this simply means is that a decree for dissolution can be instituted within two years after the date of the marriage where exceptional hardship has been proved.
Domestic Violence as a ground for a decree of dissolution of marriage falls under Section 16 1(e) of the Matrimonial Cause Act which states that the court hearing a petition for a decree of dissolution of marriage shall hold that the petitioner has satisfied the Court of the fact that:
(e) since the marriage and within a period of one year immediately preceding the date of the petition, the respondent has convicted of;
(i) having attempted to murder or unlawfully to kill the petitioner; or
(ii) having committed an offence involving the intentional infliction of grievous harm or grievous hurt on the petitioner or the intent to inflict grievous harm
It is important to note that where the petitioner alleges that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him but the parties of the marriage have lived with each other for a period or periods after the date of the occurrence of the final incident relied on by the petitioner and held by the Court to support his allegations, the fact shall be disregarded in determining for the purpose of the act whether the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent if the length of that period or of those periods together was six months or less.
From the above, it is clear that Domestic Violence as a ground for divorce is a technical one. It is important that the Petitioner reports to the appropriate authorities, documents incidents and leave the matrimonial home after the final incident which is to be relied upon in his or her petition after six months from the date of the marriage.
Domestic Violence survivors need all the support and love we have to give. These survivors are not fictitious. They are everyday people we encounter in all spheres of our lives and we should engage them in warm conversations to get them out from that turmoil in their mind, body and soul.