In divorce proceedings in Nigeria under the Matrimonial Causes Act the party seeking custody must provide details of the maintenance arrangements made for any offspring of the marriage. Offspring includes adopted children.
When filing for an uncontested divorce under section 15(2)(f)after living 3 years or more apart that is the primary thing that the court will look to determine. If you are looking for a quick uncontested divorce then be thorough and detailed in writing up a maintenance agreement.
Anticipate any future conflicts that may arise; don’t just agree that school fees will be paid by either parent. Agree and document which schools you as parents would like the children to attend and make it an integral part of the agreement or the party responsible for paying may insist on a cheap but sub standard school and deadlock payments after your decree absolute is granted.
Stipulate precisely how custody will be shared if you intend to share custody or have a regular visitation schedule. Don’t accept a vague ‘spending some weekend with father (parent) depending on the situation and exigency of work.’ A parent has to make time to regularly and in a non disruptive manner visit their offspring.
Children need stability and routine, not a father or mother that ‘drops in’ when they please or on a whim. That is in the best interest of the child and should be reflected in establishing visitation rights and schedules and in the maintenance agreement.
In addition if offspring are to spend alternate holidays with one or the other parent the agreement should be specific on the provisions made for childcare as it can become a contentious issue if the children are exposed to danger or threat.
Some men in Nigeria see child custody as their property right. In many customary legal systems once a bride price has been paid for a woman all children born to her thereafter ‘belong’ to her husband till the bride price is returned. They may lack the capacity to care for children in a nurturing manner but use this obnoxious custom to deny an ex-wife custody and visitation either punitively or vengefully.
Others leave custody to the women and refuse to support children financially so long as she has custody or until the children are old enough to seek them out independently. Some women do the same thing, leave and have nothing to do with their children till they are of age to seek them out. The offspring grow up traumatized not by the divorce but by the separation from mother or father.
The Nigerian Supreme Court has warned that custody should not be used punitively against an erring party, i.e. presumably the one whose behavior led to the grounds for divorce. The fact that either party committed adultery or was violent to the other is not enough to deny that party custody. The petitioner must prove that the children’s physical, mental and spiritual welfare is at risk from that party’s behavior.
Under the MCA and more recently the Child’s Rights Act custody is decided by the court based on the child’s perceived best interest. If you are a mother seeking custody and your spouse is contesting custody now is a good time to tell the court if he’s a closet alcoholic that spends days hiding in his study while on an alcohol binge but be ready to provide evidence.
If you’re considering a divorce except there is a clear and present danger you shouldn’t be too hasty about taking the first step. A divorce or separation is a major transition and should be planned for with as much care and thoughtful insight as the wedding was, part of those preparations include collating evidence to support your grounds for divorce as well as making sustainable economic plans.
It also note worthy that the party requesting custody is required under the MCA to reveal if he or she has committed adultery. So if your spouse is likely to demand custody proof of adultery could block that request.