Any person who has been served with a divorce in Nigeria may respond to the Petition by filing an answer in a prescribed form. First of all, it is essential for filing purposes to state that a person who institutes a divorce petition for dissolution of marriage because the marriage has broken down irretrievably is called a Petitioner, while the other spouse against whom it is filed against is called a Respondent.
A Divorce Petition is filed at any State High Court in Nigeria where a statutory marriage conducted between two people has broken down irretrievably. In our previous write-up, we explained the procedure for instituting a divorce petition in Nigeria.
The ground for instituting the action for divorce must conform with Section 15 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1970. The Petitioner, through a legal practitioner who prepared the Petition, ensures that the Petition filed is duly served on the Respondent as provided under Order III, Part 2 of the Matrimonial Causes Rules which states that;
“….when an application to a Court has been filed, the applicant shall cause service of the application to be effected on each other party to the application.”
The purpose of ensuring service of the divorce petition filed is to allow the Respondent to exercise his or her rights by responding to the Petition by filing an answer or Cross-Petition where he also wants to divorce his or her spouse on reasons other than what is alleged in the Petition.
The Respondent exercises the process of responding to a Divorce Petition by filing a written Answer to the Petition filed. The Respondent usually files the Answer through his legal practitioner. An Answer to a Petition filed is the act of acknowledging receipt of the dissolution of marriage, challenging information raised about him or her in the wedding, and also to deny any false allegations or facts raised in the Petition. The Respondent’s Answer filed should also state his or her position on the other reliefs sought in court, such as child custody (where there is a child involved), maintenance and settlement of property, or any other reliefs sought by the Petitioner in the divorce Petition
According to Order VII of the Matrimonial Causes Rules, the Respondent or a co-Respondent in proceedings instituted by Petition or a person named in a petition may by filing an answer:
- deny a fact alleged in the Petition;
- state that he does not know and cannot admit the truth of a fact alleged in a Petition;
- allege a fact; or
- admit the truth of a fact, being a fact material to the proceedings instituted by Petition, or a person named is a party or in which he is entitled to intervene.
Also, where the Respondent or co-respondent in a proceeding instituted by Petition or a person named in a petition desires to submit to the Court that it should dismiss the divorce proceedings; he shall in an Answer filed for the purpose, asking the Court to dismiss the proceedings.
A Respondent who desires to challenge the jurisdiction of the Court to which the Petition is addressed can also file an Answer Under Protest objecting and stating the grounds upon which he or she objects to the jurisdiction of the Court.
An Answer filed shall be filed by the Respondent within the time limited by the Notice of Petition addressed to the party filing an Answer. The time specified to file an Answer to a Petition is 28 days.
Where a divorce petition has been duly filed and served on the Respondent by the Petitioner, the Respondent, who fails to respond to the Petition will be likely presumed to agree with the divorce and other reliefs sought in it. The Court, in its powers, will grant sufficient time to the Petitioner to ensure that the Respondent is appropriately served with the divorce petition and all other processes involved in the dissolution of marriage. Where the Respondent still refuses to acknowledge the Petition by filing an Answer, then the Court will dissolve the marriage after the necessary proceedings are concluded.
Where a Respondent wants a divorce after a Petition has been served on him or her, he or she can also file an Answer with a Cross-Petition on the same document. The Answer and Cross-Petition also state the reliefs sought by the Respondent, such as joint custody or sole custody of the child (ren) of the marriage, maintenance, or property sharing, if any.
Once the Respondent has filed and served the Answer and Cross-Petition, the Court will then determine the status of the marriage while relying on the Petition filed by the Petitioner, and the Answer/or Answer and Cross-Petition filed by the Respondent.
In closing, the Respondent must file an Answer to any divorce petition within 28 days if he or she wants the Court to take into account his or her part of the story before making a final decision in respect of the Petition. Filing this type of Answer is very crucial where the Respondent seeks to deny some of the facts stated in the Petition or pursue any other reliefs for himself or herself. Where the Respondent fails to respond to a divorce Petition after fully served with the copy of the Petition, such a Respondent shall be deemed to have accepted all the facts contained in the Petition.
By Family Law Team at Resolution Law Firm