Child Custody in Nigeria

There seems to be a presumption that all child custody matters in Nigeria will be decided in favor of the father. While it is true that under some customary law systems the father is privileged in custody matters this is not uniform or universal and does not apply to any statutory marriage under the Matrimonial Cause Act.

Under Sharia law custody is usually granted the mother; under Yoruba customary law, mothers are granted custody of female children and fathers of male children. In Igbo customary law custody is of weaned children is usually given to the father. Mind you Nigeria has numerous ethnic groups and customary laws vary broadly.

For a marriage to be subject to customary law the ceremonies for consecrating marriage under that particular system of customary law must have been complied with and the bride price must have been paid. If these conditions have not been met any custody of any children of the relationship will be automatically awarded to the mother and or her father.

A statutory marriage that comes under the jurisdiction of the Matrimonial Causes Act must be celebrated before a licensed marriage officer outside Nigeria or registrar of marriages within Nigeria between a man and woman that are previously single. Many foreign women have been manipulated with threats that they would lose custody and be deported forcibly.

Section 71 of the Matrimonial Causes Act is very clear that custody should be decided based on the child’s best interest. Case law has upheld this principle but mothers that want custody are held to very strict proof that they can maintain the children without regard to the courts powers to grant maintenance orders.

Mothers that have come to me for representation frequently describe the arduous proof they are made to provide that they have a personal residence, job and income before they are given custody. While it seems logical and fair that mothers are encouraged to have a job, child maintenance is supposed to provide the necessary financial support that she may lack to take care of her child or children. 

If it’s in the best interest of the family that the spouses separate or divorce such as in cases involving domestic violence the spouse granted custody should receive maintenance and support from the other. Both parents should be and should remain financially responsible for their offspring.

However if either spouse was by mutual agreement or otherwise the primary care giver and did not work outside the home during cohabitation and is given custody in a divorce it would be questionable whether requiring that spouse to now work would serve the interest of the children.

Father’s that are asking for custody of children during divorce proceedings are equally required to prove that they can personally provide attention, care and nurture in addition to material needs and that they are fit to have custody.

Will the court automatically grant custody to a father that is also a violent drug addict and regularly disappears for months at a time?  No. Will the court grant custody to an abusive man that believes his wife is a witch and takes his children for strange midnight rituals and exorcisms? No.

Likewise the court will not automatically grant custody to a mother if she is a drug addict or a dangerously delusional religious zealot. Case law shows the child interests being paramount. Custody hearings are getting more sophisticated and judges are asking insightful questions about the best interest of a child in any given circumstance.

Generally custody of very young children is awarded to the mother. There is also a preference for awarding custody of male children to the father and female children to the mother but again this is not a hard and fast rule and circumstances of each case determine the best interest of the child/children.

Evidence of misconduct and moral depravity could however tip the courts judgment against the offending party when awarding custody. The case law needs to be carefully reviewed to determine what the courts consider moral depravity of sufficient seriousness to otherwise deprive a parent of custody.

The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 makes provisions for protecting children during a divorce but child custody law remains a product of Nigeria’s marriage laws and it remains to be seen how the CRA will be read and enforced.

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176 Responses to “Child Custody in Nigeria”

  1. olu alao Says:

    i have a 6yr old daughter in nigeria and not married to her mother. we were separated 6months after my daughter’s birth. ever since, i have been supporting my child and paying school fees but the mother never allow my daughter a visit or sleep over in my house. although, i live in u.k but my mother often go to visit my child and anytime am around, the mother of my child and her own mother always give stories and tell me i have to sign an agreement before i can take my daughter for a visit or sleepover in my house. my argument now is that, my child’s mother has moved on, got married with 2 children but left my daughter with her own mother (granny). i now wonder, how come it is ok for her to leave my child with her mum but my child is not allowed to go near my own mum. please, can you advice me how to get custody of my child as the environment is not good enough for her upbringing.

    • mz_agams Says:

      To get custody file in the High Court under the Child’s Rights Act if its been domiciled in the state where your daughter resides. Custody is not usually awarded to grand parents.

  2. Tutu Says:

    My niece is 14, she lives with my parents since age 3 after loosing both parents. Her fathers parents don’t come to check on her or support her welfare. They live in northern nigeria while my parents are in the south. We only know one of them and cannot even easily trace them. We are yoruba and her father is hausa(yola). My father called me today to tell me he is planning to change her surname from her father’s name to his, for whatever reason, I totally disagreed with him and told him its not proper. Can you please help shed more light on this. Many thanks!

  3. olu alao Says:

    thanks a million

  4. valerie Says:

    Please help!I have been married for 7years with 3kids age 6,4and 2.my husband wants a divorce,do I stand a chance of having custody of my kids?as I believe they are too young without a mother’s care.thanks

  5. Olusola Says:

    Under Nigeria law, did the father not have right to take custody of the child since the child is bearing his name, at all?

  6. ITUNU Says:

    I HAVE BEEN MARRIED EIGHT YEARS WITH 3 CHILDREN ALL UNDER 5. MY HUSBAND IS VIOLENT AND HAS A BAD TEMPER AND CONSTANTLY ABUSES ME VERBALLY, EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY. HE HAS A SET WAYS AND ALL MUST ABIDE BY IT. WE DO NOT TALK TO EACH OTHER MOST TIMES, HE IS AN ABSENTEE DAD AND IS NOT THE SOLE PROVIDER FOR THE FAMILY. WE DO NOT SHOW AFFECTION AND FIGHT CONSTANTLY IN FRONT OF THE KIDS SO MUCH SO THAT THE FIRST BEGS US TO STOP ANS WRITES IN HER SCHOOL NOTES ABUT IT. . I AM NOW CONSIDERING A SEPARATION BUT I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT MY CHANCES ARE IN KEEPING THE CHILDREN AS I WILL NOT LIKE ANOTHER WOMAN TO TAKE CARE OF MY CHILDREN. FAMILY AND FRIENDS SAY STAY FOR THE CHILDREN SAKE BUT I HAVE BEEN VERY UNHAPPY WITH MY SITUATION. WHAT DO I DO. I HEAR THAT WHEN THE CHILDREN TURN 7, THE MAN HAS THE RIGHT TO TAKE THEM. IS A WOMAN JUST A MEANS TO AN END, BEARING CHILDREN IN THIS CASE? PLEASE HELP

    • mz_agams Says:

      If you read my post I believe it answers your questions. You may also like to read ‘What You Need To Do Before Getting A Divorce in Nigeria’ to help your chances of getting custody

  7. Nwachi Says:

    Please I live in the US and already got divorced from my husband at a customary court in Nigeria. The court awarded me full legal custody of my three childen. Now my ex is seeking for parenting time in the US and my US attorney wants me to find out how custody works in Nigeria. When one parent has full legal custody, does is there still room for joint custody or parenting time whereby the other parent can sue for parenting time or does he get only visitation time with the children whereby he visits them where they live? In the US, there are different options. Please help, we are going to court in a few days.

    • mz_agams Says:

      I’m not familiar with ‘parenting time’, its not known to Nigeria law.

      If a parent wants to challenge or appeal a custody decision in Nigeria he/she would need to prove that the circumstances on which that decision was made have changed. The court must have considered it NOT in the best interest of the children for him to have custody. Why?

      Joint custody where both parent take decisions about children, physical custody where children live with one parent but and maybe other parent takes major decisions, full legal custody in Nigerian law means you and you alone can take decisions on children’s welfare. He would only have visitation if its part of the court judgement not automatically.

  8. Temi Says:

    How can i get in touch with you. i want a one on one discussion with you and be your client

  9. adeyemo Says:

    I have a 1 year old plus daughter bearing my name but whom I had discovered is not mine by paternity test. I am looking at seeking for a surname change for the child, along with been absolved of all responsibilities/parental care in the divorce process starting soon. Kindly advice on the legal implications of changing or not changing the name. 2. Also if I decide not to disclaim, what are the present and future legal implications as a father ? The biological father is refusing to come forward and claim the child.

  10. yinkan ajayi Says:

    please i would like to know if there can be child custody without a divorce?

  11. Denny Says:

    I have a 14yr old son and a 9yr old daughter from a woman to whom i was never married. I have been the sole custodian and provider of these children for the past 8yrs while the mother is married with children to another man.i need a court order stating that i have FULL custodial rights to the children with a note that the children were heard in court. How do i go about this considering fact i dont know location of their mother.

  12. gift Says:

    Ive been married for 11months and we have a 7 months old son.i understand that we cant be divorced now as our marriage is still young but I have decided we should be separated.the problem is that my husband wants to keep our baby whom im still breastfeeding.we have fought over this but he wont let me leave with my son.i dont have a job but I have a very supportive family and so taking care of my child wont be a problem until I can stand on my feet again.on the other hand,my husband is an alcoholic and also smokes weed.he is also a very careless person.he could get high on alcohol or weed and something bad might happen to my child.he also doesnt see any problem in smoking around my child which we always fight about.I know he doesnt really care about our child but he is fighting for custody just to make me stay with him.please is it possible to get a court order or anything legal to enable me keep my infant son until we can get a divorce?would really appreciate your response.thanks.

    • mz_agams Says:

      Go to the social welfare office in your state city and make a report about his drug use before you leave for your parents house. he is a danger to you your child and to himself. He can’t take your child from you with out a court order himself and you are allowed to visit and stay with your parents if you so wish

      • ibekwe emeka Says:

        Dear madam,

          Good evening, pls i have gone to welfare to sign that i will be bringing money and take care of my children expenses, but my wife dont want me to set my eyes on my child or let me to know the school which they are going, pls what can i do, because i have vowed not to bring kobo when the date they ask me to bring money reach.

        Thanks Emeka

        ________________________________

  13. Mary Says:

    Hello,
    My name is Mary and I have a 10 year old son. I was married to the boys’ father in the USA (Church Wedding) and immediately after the wedding moved to the UK to live with my ex-husband.
    I filed for divorce in the USA and have sole legal and physical custody while he filed for divorce in the UK. I want to travel back to Nigeria to visit family but I am afraid that he may try to retain my son or cause any other type of trouble while I am there. There was no dowry paid and no traditional wedding performed. Although he is on the birth certificate and the child was born in the UK.

    Does he have the right to retain me at the airport and assume custody of my son (assuming he has a UK order)?

    Furthermore, would Nigerian law allow him to forcibly retain my child in Nigeria until the age of 21?

    Humbly awaiting your reply,
    Mary

  14. Richard Olatunji Says:

    Hi, I have two daughters from a relationship that did not work out due to interference. The children bore my surname until they were changed from their previous school by the lady’s parent about 11 years ago.

    The children are now in their teens and I want to know the possibility of changing their names back to mine. What are the chances and legal implications of doing such.

    Their mum and I were never married in any way. Pls kindly advise me, as the matter is eating me raw. It’s my name on their birth certificate.

    Please treat as very urgent.

    Thank you.

    • mz_agams Says:

      As a father you still have certain statutory right even though you may not be entitled under tribal laws. However, I’m not sure if you can force them to answer your name IF THE CHILDREN DON’T WANT TO.

      I hope you have had a good relationship with your children over the years and suggest you leave them to decide since they are teenagers already.

  15. ABIMBOLA Says:

    Dear sir/ma. Thanks so much for your helps.
    Please I did court and traditional married 2012. It was after my child birth I discovered I married a wrong ma. He was 38 when I was 29years. He told me he was a university staff, he had his master’s degree. But I later discovered he did not go to university at all. He lives in Ibadan and I was working in Lagos before we got married. he has never contributed anything after the wedding that I got pregnant. He has not been supported with anything till I gave birth. It was after I gave birth that I had 3 months maternity I got to know he is an illiterate n a night guard. The he can sleep with anything. But he abandoned me in pregnancy. But later when I started having threats from his girl friends who never knew he was married staying she would shower me and my baby with acid when my baby was a month. I had to run away with my a month old baby my baby is 9months old now. Nobody from his father’s family ever sent a text a called to ask of him. Have been his mother and father, and using my own name as his surname. Pls what can I do get the custody of my child till my child is mature and decide on his own, I know its too early from me to divorce now bcos its not up to 2 years. Pls help I don’t deserve this.

  16. Goke Olanrewaju Says:

    Good day Madam! I have a 4year old son from a woman I never got married to. She disappeared when she was two months pregnant only to return when the child was 3years old. Ever since I came in contact with the child, I have been paying attention to the child as a father in terms of care, nurture and materials. Now, the child is 4years old and I want to raise him by myself because I don’t have faith in the mother giving him the best upbringing that he deserves. I want you to help me with the best possible advise on how to go about this in court. The mother is married to another man but no longer living with the man. She’s violent and I don’t want anything whatsoever to do with her again. She is trying to use the child to put my relationship in jeopardy by making hell out of my life. I am really tired of this and want to end it once and for all. she’s saying she does not want another woman to raise her child. I don’t how that is her business. How do I solve this issue with this trickish woman, please.? My name is Goke.

    • mz_agams Says:

      Go to the social welfare office in your state of residence. You can also see a lawyer to file a custody suit for you as the father and present the details to the court to decide the best interest of the child

  17. JOY Says:

    PLS advise me.i had MY 13 yrs old son witout bride price or anything to b done with money wit his father.and over 10YRS now d child is with his paternal mother.now his grandma refuses to release d child to me.

  18. Tunrayo Says:

    Hello ma,need your advice.i’m a mother of 3 girls,11,8 and 4 yrs of age but my husband fraudulently took my kids away from me.we got married in surulere local govt in 2002 but all my kids are born in spain.he brought them to Nigeria with the intention of coming for holiday since 2010/11 and later on seize their document thereby retaining them in Nigeria and he himself living there too.since then I do come home to see my kids each yr and last year he now told me he’s no longer interested in d marriage and not allowing me access to my kids.the problem is that the children are all not living with him but with his mum in epe and deny my family access to d kids.when I was in Nigeria last year I had to go take my kids n my dad lawyer had to interfere that I should take them back cos im not presently living in the country,that the best is to relocate back home for me to have custody to my kids which im prepared to do.he and his mother has even gone to the extent of taking my kids to herbalist to give them concoction drink to hate me.and now my first daughter who is eleven is so afraid of them that said even if they ask her in court if she want to go with me she will say no cos she does not want them to kill her but inside cry out to me to take them away from there.i’m determined to come back to the country this year to be with my children.do I stand a chance of getting my daughters custody.

  19. zizi Says:

    I’m a 32yrs old woman working in a govt organization in abuja. I have a case that is on going right now over my 4yrs old son that was forcefully taken away from me by his father since August last year. He has insisted that he wants custody of the child despite all efforts made by the welfare asking him to bring the child back. Presently my son is not in abuja, he took him away to live with his aged mother in one of the southern states. My son is always crying n asking when I’m coming to take him back to abuja whenever I speak with him on phone. Pls I desperately need your help.

  20. nkiru Says:

    i have being married for 3yrs with so much abuses that i almost lose my 6wks pregnancy bt i survived it thank God, he continue with the beating untill d last time he use hot iron on me i escape to the toilet after which i decide to quite bl4 i lose my life as i was living he cease all my things and that of my kids 3 and 1+ from church i was advice to go home to parent which i did since then has nt ask after the kids and their up keep, they call off the stick i wnt bk to the town to write my exams since am undergraduate, he find out and demanded for his dowry and he is demanding the custody of the kids after 8months of nt coming to my house nor take care of them. i learnt hw to bake and out door decorations which some of my friend help me to get job, i use the money to fund my partime program and kids sch and welfare bt am secared of losing my kids to blcos he has money and family is poor and cannot challenge him. pls advice me blcos i dont wnt lose my kids to him.

  21. blessing ogbu Says:

    I have 3 kids but was never married to their father, for almost 10 yes we had a working relationship and I begged him to formalize it but last year I decided I was tired of waiting he works in sokoto as a law enforcement officer and only comes to see the kids once or twice a year they have been with me since they were born except for the eldest who spent a little time with his dad in d earlier year the rest have never spent 4 months. Cumulatively with him under the same roof I have raised them hands on myself they are 9 ,6 and 4 respectively I started dating again early last year and though I am in a relationship am not in a hurry for marriage any more the man am seeing sees my kids once a week at least and is d only present male role model they have I want my kids to grow up first
    I have a thriving business and get a little support from their dad but I would be fine on my own I pay their fees and he pays me back half of it instulmentally he provides for healthcare via nhis for them
    I do not want to restrict their interactions with their father I hope they can enjoy the best of both worlds even though am done with the relationship but he is threatening to take them away from me what chances do I have to keep them

  22. qamar Says:

    please help me out i have a years old son with a woman in nigeria..i am also a nigerian..but live in germany now..i use to pay her 40kmonthly but early this year i told her i lost my job and i can only be giving her 20k..so when i sent the house rent to her she did not pay the house rent..she parked all what belongs to both of us and return to her fathers house..now i want her to let me have my son up here so he can get good education.she said no..she said she belongs to human right group..i dont want my son to suffer and i dont want to send my money to her..cus i know she will use it for something else

    • mz_agams Says:

      If you don’t want your son to ‘suffer’ you will have to send the mother money. Or you could try your luck in the court and ask for custody. If you get a good lawyer you could succeed

  23. Emmanuel Ogbeh Says:

    I have a year old daugther with a woman i never got married to,we leave together ever since she put to birth,the child bears my name but the mother dont want us to get married,she pack all her belongies from my house to her parent house and still living under my roof,i want to have the custody of my child,what do i do please reply is urgent

  24. Jackson Says:

    I have a nine years hold with a woman who is now married to another man, I was responsible for his school fees but stopped when they change him from his previous school to a new school without my knowledge but still I never denied him of wears in all the past festive periods. His mother has already started poisoning his mind towards me and even denied him visit to my house even as we are in the same city during holidays. What do I do

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