Family law in Nigeria also known as matrimonial or law of domestic relations is concerned with issues such as jurisdiction, divorce, children, cohabitation, child maintenance, guardianship, and adoption amongst others. Family law consists of a body of statutes and case laws that govern family relationships in Nigeria. Most family proceedings in Nigerian courts are as a result of the dissolution of a marriage, annulment, filing for child custody, separation, alimony, application for guardianship, etc.
In practice, family law is a broad branch of the private field of law and it comprises of the rules that regulate the relationship between spouses, parents, and children and guardians and wards.
The major statutes that guide family law in Nigeria are enunciated below;
The Marriage Act/ the Matrimonial Causes Act 1970– this Act governs matters relating to the dissolution of marriage, custody, and maintenance matters arising from the dissolution of marriage. Part 1 of the Act makes provisions for the jurisdiction, the validity of a marriage, and institution of matrimonial causes proceedings. Part 2 of the Act provides for matrimonial reliefs and dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, judicial separation, restitution of conjugal rights, Part 4 of the Act provides for the maintenance, custody, and settlement in proceedings for dissolution of marriage, Part 5 of the Act makes provisions for the effect and recognition of decrees, Part 6 makes provisions for evidence in relation to matrimonial causes, Part 7 deals with the enforcement of decrees of the court and Part 10 deals with miscellaneous matters such as proceedings to be heard by the judge alone, costs, service of court processes and rules of court amongst others.
The Child Rights Act 2003– this Act was made pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and has been adopted in 25 states in the Federation. The Act makes provisions for the welfare and adoption of children. Section 1 of the Act provides that “in every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, institutions or service, court of law or administrative or legislative authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration”. In relation to adoption Section 129 of the Act provides for the category of persons that can apply to the court for the adoption of children, these are;
- A married couple where both of them have attained the age of 25 years and there is an order authorizing them to adopt a child.
- A married person if he or she has obtained consent from his or her spouse and
- Single persons if he or she has attained the age of 35 years, provided that the child to be adopted is of the same sex as the person adopting.
- In all cases specified above, the adopter or adopters shall be persons found to be suitable to adopt the child in question by the appropriate investigative authorities.
Also, Section 3 of the Act also ensures that the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which relates to fundamental human rights shall apply to the Child Rights Act, as every child is entitled to their human rights.
Family Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2012- this Rule was made pursuant to the Child Rights Act to relate to proceedings in relation to the right, advancement, and welfare of a child and it is applicable to family court in Lagos State. It sets out the procedure for adoption, custody, guardianship, and welfare of children. Order 6 of the Rules provides for the commencement procedure, that proceedings shall be commenced by way of an Originating Motion filed at the Family Court Registry at the High Court or Magistrate Court. The Originating Motion is to be accompanied by a statement of case, affidavit of facts, statement of arrangement for children, all other necessary documents, and a statement of truth verifying the mentioned documents.
Maintenance Orders Act Cap M1, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004- this Act makes provisions for the enforcement in Nigeria of maintenance orders made in England, Ireland, and other countries that are applicable. The Act defines Maintenance Order as an order of affiliation for the periodical payment of sums of money towards the maintenance of the wife or other dependents of the person against whom the order is made and in respect of Ireland, includes an order or decree for the recovery or repayment of the cost of relief or maintenance. Section 4 of the Act provides that “where a court in Nigeria has whether before or after the commencement of this Act, made a maintenance order against any person, and it is proved to that court that the person against whom the order was made is resident in England or Ireland, the court shall send to the President, for transmission to the Secretary of State a certified copy of the order”.
Protection against Domestic Violence Law of Lagos State 2007– this law applicable in Lagos State was enacted for the protection against domestic violence of women and children and it also specifies the different types of domestic violence. Section 1 of the law provides for the prohibition of domestic violence that no person shall commit any act of domestic violence against any person.
The law was enacted as a response to the incidents of violence against women and children in Lagos State, as different forms of violence are perpetrated against women on a daily basis, although recent cases have shown that men are also victims. Under the Lagos State law, any complaint against domestic violence can be filed at the Magistrate or High Court of Lagos State.
Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015– this Act was enacted as a result of the rising need for the protection of persons against different forms of violence including sexual, physical, psychological, discrimination against persons both at the home front and the larger society and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and appropriate punishment for offenders.
In respect of the court system, there is no special court designated for determining family-related matters; however, some states like Lagos Stave have created and designated particular judges/courts to adjudicate on family matters. Also, jurisdiction for matrimonial causes is given to the High Court of the States of the Federation and to the Federal Capital Territory.
In conclusion, family law regulates relationships and conducts of people to ensure that there is stability in the social structure of the society, as a family is the basis of any human society. The above-discussed laws are some of the laws amongst others that regulate the relationship between husband and wife, children, guardians and wards, family properties and so much more.
By Family Law Department at RLF