Having been an Associate at the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Rivers State Branch, and attended to several matrimonial causes cases, coupled with the news making the rounds about Steve Harvey’s wife asking for $200m in alimony after cheating on him, and the now old story of Achraf Hakimi wife who discovered all her husband’s properties was in his mother’s name, it appears to me that Nigerians will also settle for alimony in a failed relationship. This is quite understandable against the background that parties to a marriage in several instances have had to make compromises in every aspect of their lives; ranging from their jobs to their personal identities, and individual choices. The list is endless. Here, I have tried to answer a few questions you may have about Alimony, as practiced in Nigeria.
Q: What is “Alimony” and how does it apply in Nigeria?
According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, alimony is an allowance paid by one spouse to another by order of the court for maintenance of the other spouse while they are separated, during divorce proceedings, or after they have divorced. In Nigeria, there is no mention of the word “Alimony” anywhere in our laws. What our Matrimonial Causes Act LFN 1990 (being the principal law on the subject) in its Part IV provides for is “Maintenance, custody and settlement”. The Law has done away with the confusing terminologies of “alimony” and “maintenance” by only using the word “maintenance” even when alimony in the conventional sense is what is intended. However, I will be using the terms “Alimony” and “maintenance” interchangeably, for easy understanding.
Q: Who makes the order and to whom?
It can only be ordered by a court, and ordered against either the male spouse or the female spouse. Alimony is not only paid by a husband to his wife. Depending on the circumstance of each case, wives do pay alimony to their husbands too.
Q: What’s the purpose of Alimony?
It is to finance the maintenance of the “deserving” other spouse/party at any stage of divorce proceedings or beyond. Note that alimony is not a punitive cost nor is it awarded to mark the misconduct of either of the parties to the proceedings; it is not a punishment for the actions/inactions of any of the spouse. An adulterous man is not made to pay for his wife’s maintenance because he committed adultery. The sole purpose of making an order for the payment of alimony is to see to the maintenance of a deserving spouse.
Q: Does the type of marriage you did affect the application of Alimony?
Yes. Maintenance can ONLY be ordered by a Court where parties conduct Statutory marriage (either valid or void), which is what people call “Court marriage”, or even when done in church, the church is a registered place, authorized by law to celebrate legal marriages. This means that alimony cannot be ordered where parties are only married under customary (traditional) law or Muslim rites.
See Section 69 Matrimonial Causes Act.
This means that if you are not legally married, you are not entitled to alimony. I have had to deal with cases where parties had cohabited for a long time and suddenly the man is no longer interested in the relationship and the woman starts feeling entitled to the wealth “she helped him build”, Unfortunately, the law does not back you up. You are not entitled to anything. Your best option is suing for “breach of promise to marry”. I will refer you to this article to learn more about this option.
Q: Is there always a party entitled to Alimony?
No. The award of alimony is at the discretion of the court, that is a court of law is not bound to order alimony against any party in every divorce proceedings in Nigeria. The Court can make the order based on a number of factors including the means, earning capacity, and conduct of the parties to the marriage and all other relevant circumstances, based on the evidence before it.
See Section 70 (1) Matrimonial Causes Act.
Q: What are the principles/factors guiding the assessment of maintenance?
The court considers the following factors before making the order:
- The means of income and earning capacity of each spouse. This includes any income from employment, properties, investments, or other sources. The age, health, skills and responsibilities of the couple are considered for their earning capacity.
- The conduct of the parties: In a case, the Court refused to award maintenance to the wife who walked out of the marriage in spite of letters and requests for reconciliation by the husband. Where the applicant for maintenance is the party at fault, the size of maintenance and whether it would be awarded at all depends on the gravity of the party’s misconduct.
- The financial needs and obligations of each spouse like rent, utilities, and medical bills.
- The length of the marriage: Generally, longer marriages result in higher alimony payments.
- The standard of living enjoyed by both spouses during the marriage, before the dissolution of the marriage. This includes factors such as housing, transportation, and entertainment expenses.
- The age and health of each spouse: If one spouse has health issues that prevent them from working, for example, they may be entitled to higher alimony payments.
- Existence or non-existence of a child/children of the marriage.
Q: How is maintenance paid?
The maintenance order or alimony sought, if granted by the court, may be ordered to be paid in a lump sum, weekly, monthly or as the court may deem fit to order.
Q: Are children covered by a maintenance payment?
Yes, the existence of children can affect the amount paid for alimony (maintenance). However, an order for the maintenance of children of the marriage does not cover a child who has attained the age of 21 years unless the court is of the opinion that there are special circumstances that justify the making of such an order for the benefit of that child. The court in cases like these, directly or indirectly relating to children, always regards the interests of those children as the paramount consideration
See Section 70 (4) of the Matrimonial Causes Act
Q: What are the rights and obligations of parties?
Alimony payments involve two parties: the paying spouse (obligor) and the receiving spouse (obligee). The obligor has the right to challenge or request a review of the amount of alimony ordered by the court, in the absence of these, the obligor has an obligation to pay the amount of alimony ordered by the court. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences such as contempt of court charges.
The obligee has the right to receive alimony payments as ordered by the court and the obligation to use alimony payments for their intended purpose. They also have a right to request a review of the alimony order if their financial circumstances change.
Note: A maintenance order made may be discharged if the party in whose favor it was made marries again or if there is any other just cause for so doing.
The following cases are instructive for your understanding of the subject:
- Hayes v. Hayes (2000) 3 NWLR (648) 276 at 294,
- Nanna v. Nanna (2006) 3 NWLR Pt.966 page 1
- Ibeabuchi v. Ibeabuchi (unreported) Appeal NO. FCA/E/5/82 OF 22//9/82
- Nakanda v. Nakanda (unreported) Appeal CA/L/99/81 of 17/6/88.
- Okaome v. Okaome & ANOR (2016) LPELR-41460(CA)
- Ajayi-Ajagbe v. Ajayi-Ajagbe (1978) CCHCJ 193
- Onyia v. Onyia (1985) MCRN (PT. 11) 15
Written by Imeh Imeh ESQ