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What are the grounds for the dissolution of statutory marriage in Nigeria?

by Editor

August 22, 2013 | 12:00 am
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According to the Ahrons C.R. “The Good Divorce” New York, HarperCollins Publisher 194 page 9, every thirteen seconds, someone gets divorced. Each year in the United States alone, over one million families experience divorce. Every year, for every two couples that get married, one couple gets divorced. The above statistics show that although divorce is bad, it has become an inevitable aspect of our lives. In Nigeria the case is not any different; in recent times we have experienced a consistent rise in the number of couples that divorce.

Consequently, we shall attempt to analyse the grounds for dissolution of a statutory marriage in Nigeria and the order which the courts can make for a petitioner seeking to institute Matrimonial Proceedings for the dissolution of statutory marriage under the Matrimonial Causes Act, which is applied in the State High Courts.

Put succinctly, statutory marriages are marriages that are governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act and include marriages that are conducted in places such as, a licensed place of worship, a registrar’s office, marriage under special license.

The Matrimonial Causes Act promulgated as Decree No. 18 of 1970 makes provisions for Matrimonial causes. Section 114 defines matrimonial causes to mean proceedings for the dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, judicial separation, restitution of conjugal rights or jactitation of marriage..

Grounds For Dissolution Of Marriage

There are several grounds for the dissolution of a statutory marriage. Sec 15 (1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, provides that a petition under this Act may be presented to the court by either party to the marriage upon the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

The court hearing a petition for a decree of dissolution of a marriage shall hold the marriage to have broken irretrievably if, the petitioner satisfies the court of one or more of the following facts:

• That the respondent has willfully 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; and

• That since the marriage the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitionercannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.

Decrees The Court Can Make

At the establishment of the grounds stated in Sec 15(1) above, and where the court is satisfied that there is no valid or justifiable defence to the petition by the respondent, the court can order a decree for dissolution of the marriage. The decree for dissolution of marriage is granted in two stages: firstly, a decree nisi is granted, thereafter upon the expiration of a period of three (3) months, a decree absolute is granted by the court.

Where there are children of the marriage who are under the age of sixteen (16) years at the date of the decree nisi, the decree nisi shall not become absolute unless the court, by order has declared:

• That it is satisfied that proper arrangements in all the circumstance have been made for the welfare and where appropriate, the advancement and education of those children;

• That there are special circumstances that the decree nisi should become absolute, notwithstanding that the court is not satisfied that such arrangements have not been made.

Other Forms Of Matrimonial Causes As Provided By The Act Are:

• Nullity Of Marriage

A petition for a decree of nullity of marriage shall indicate whether the decree is sought on the ground that the marriage is void ab-initio or on the ground that the marriage is voidable.

Void marriages are where:

• Either of the parties is, at the time of the marriage, lawfully married to some other person;

• The parties are within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity;

• The consent of either of the parties is not a real consent; or

• Either of the parties is not of marriageable age.

Voidable marriages are where:

• Either party to the marriage is incapable of consummating the marriage;

• Either party is of unsound mind;

• Either party is suffering from a venereal disease; or

• The wife is pregnant by a person other than the husband.

• Restitution Of Conjugal Rights

According to Sec 26(1) & (2), Matrimonial Causes Act, a petition for a decree of conjugal right must show the date on which the petitioner and respondent last cohabited and the circumstance in which the cohabitation between the petitioner and respondent ceased.

The petitioner must also show that he sincerely desires conjugal rights to be rendered by the respondent and is willing to render conjugal rights to the respondent. However, the court upon making the decree for restitution of conjugal rights cannot compel an unwilling respondent, but the court upon an application by the petitioner can order a decree for dissolution of the marriage.

• Jactitation Of Marriage

A petition for an act of jactitation of marriage shall state that the petitioner is not married to the respondent. The petition shall state the dates on which and the times and places at which the respondent is alleged to have boasted and asserted that a marriage had taken place between the petitioner and the respondent.

Upon the application of the petitioner before the court, and after proving the particulars of the assertions, the court can make an order restraining the respondent from making further assertions and boastful comments of being married to the petitioner.


Instituting matrimonial causes in Nigeria is governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act. Grounds for dissolution of the marriage are also stipulated under the aforementioned Act. It is also clear that only statutory marriages can be dissolved by the courts, as the law does not govern marriages conducted under customary and traditional laws. Furthermore, the decrees which the court can make in this regard are also stipulated by law. In view of the foregoing, we hope that we have succeeded in enlightening your good selves on the approach in instituting matrimonial proceedings before the High Courts in Nigeria.

by Editor

August 22, 2013 | 12:00 am
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