Alimony: The incredible settlement
Marriages crash these days almost as soon as they are consummated. But women, especially those with young children, bear the brunt of divorce principally because of paltry amount of money courts usually award them as upkeep of their kids, writes ABIODUN BELLO
She sat in a corner of the bus with a boy of about 11 years old on her lap. That she was not happy was an understatement; it was written all over her face. It also reflected in her speech as she was soliloquising.
Later, the monologue became a dialogue between the woman and her son, identified as Mike. “Mike, when we get to the court, tell them that if you don’t get money, you will miss the admission.
You know your dad has refused to pay the little amount the court asked him to pay monthly to take care of you and your brothers,” she told her son, who responded in the affirmative.
With a little nudge, Mama Mike, as she prefers to be addressed, disclosed that she was married to a pastor who struggled to make ends meet at the outset of their union. But, according to her, after the couple combined resources and efforts, they built a church, which started to flourish after the initial challenges. It was at that point the devil burst into the home in form of a strange woman.
The woman, Mama Mike said, soon took over the pastor’s heart and home. Then the centre of the marriage could no longer hold, so, the once happy family started to disintegrate until Mama Mike was “pushed” out of her matrimonial home.
“It was a terrible experience. My children and I were subjected to traumatic experience until we could no longer bear it. It got to a stage I believed that I would lose my mind if I do not take steps. I felt it was better to leave the home and be alive to take care of my children than to continue to endure the bad treatment I was being subjected to. “I decided to end the marriage because if I die my children will suffer greatly.
So, I filed a suit for the dissolution of the marriage,” she said.
According to the woman, her former husband refused to pay the paltry sum the court asked him to pay for the upkeep of the three children.
She said: “Apart from the money he was asked to pay monthly for the feeding and care of the children, he was asked to take care of the school fees of the children.
But he has not done that as well; that is why we are going to court now as Mike has been offered admission into secondary school.”
According to her, the judge directed her to always approach the court registrar for school fees of the children which her husband was ordered to be paying through the court.
Mama Mike said it had been difficult taking care of the children without financial support from anybody. “But we are coping, with the special grace of God.
“I suffered with my husband to build the church. I ought to have contested the ownership of the church with him during the trial, but I just decided to leave him to God.
Now, another woman has taken over everything I struggled to build with him,” she added. Mama Mike is not the only woman caught in the web of bitter divorce settlement case.
Several women tread that worn path daily.
While some were probably lucky to enjoy their marriages for a while, trouble usually starts for several others almost from the first night of their unions.
When a tottering marriage runs its turbulent course and ends with the stroke of the gavel, the trauma goes both sides.
But the wife, in most cases, is more traumatised than the husband. This is probably because women are not as empowered financially as men, particularly in this clime.
Apart from this, the post-separation traumatic experience has always been a big challenge.
This is compounded by waking up to the reality of being out of marriage. When the custody of children, who are mostly minor, is awarded to the woman, the man is usually asked to pay a paltry amount of money monthly for the upkeep of the child or children, as the case may be.
On April 5, an Idi-Ogungun Customary Court at Agodi, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, dissolved a 10-year-old marriage between Mr. Shina Ismaila and Mrs. Olaremi Ismaila over Shina’s drunkenness.
The President of the court, Chief Mukaila Balogun, and the court’s assessors, Ganiyu Alao and Aare Samotu, unanimously dissolved the marriage.
The court ruled that the first two children should be in the custody of the defendant (Shina) while the last child should be with the 28-year-old plaintiff. The court also asked Shina to be paying a meagre N3,500 to Olaremi as monthly allowance for the upkeep of the child in her custody.
If what Olaremi got to take care of her child monthly was paltry, Mrs. Sherifat Okunola’s own was miserably outrageous.
On March 14, the Iletuntun Customary Court in Ibadan dissolved the marriage between Sherifat and her then hubby, Mr. Taiwo Okunola, over sexual starvation and threat to life. The President of the court, Mr. Henric Agbaje, dissolved the marriage after the petitioner, Taiwo, told the court that he could no longer tolerate his wife’s behaviour of staving him sexually.
Agbaje held that the court had to separate the couple on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. He said: “We have taken cognisance of the fact that Taiwo and Sherifat have chosen to part ways, despite all efforts to reconcile them.
“Therefore, in the interest of peaceful co-existence, the union between the couple has ceased to be from henceforth. “Custody of the three year-old child produced by the union is hereby granted to Sherifat.” But according to the president of the court, N3,000 is enough for Sherifat’s child’s monthly upkeep.
“Taiwo shall pay a monthly feeding allowance of N3,000 for the upkeep of the child,” Agbaje ruled. He, however, asked Taiwo to be responsible for the child’s educational and health issues. “He (Taiwo) will be responsible for his education and health matters,” the president of the court added.
The marriage crashed after only four years. Also, an Oja’ba/Mapo Grade C Customary Court, Ibadan, dissolved the marriage between Mrs. Modupe Adesiyan and Mr. Dare Adesiyan because the latter abandoned his wife and daughter. The petitioner, Modupe, a trader and resident of Coca-Cola, Mokola area of Ibadan, said she wanted the court to dissolve her marriage because Dare did not care for her and her daughter. She said: “His parents also don’t want him to go ahead with our relationship.
“My husband has refused to take care of me and my daughter since four years ago till now. He doesn’t know what my daughter and I are passing through, whether we are eating or not; whether we are okay or not. He just doesn’t come around. “Though I was a divorcee before I met Dare and he had seduced me to marry him, but since there is no love between us again, I plead with this court to dissolve our union.” The defendant was not in court, but President of the court, Chief Odunade Adekola, dissolved the marriage. He said: “Having heard the evidence given by the plaintiff and the defendant intentionally absconded himself from the court, I therefore rule that both parties should be going their separate ways…” Adekola, however, awarded the custody of the child produced in the union, Oluwapamilerin, to the plaintiff.
“The defendant is hereby ordered to be paying N5,000 as feeding allowance for the child until she grows up. The defendant should also be responsible for her education and health and he must be served with a copy of the judgement,” he added. It is difficult to determine why judges award paltry sums of money as upkeep of children of broken marriages. But lawyers said there was no law stipulating the alimony a judge would award. According to them, it is discretional. Former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adekunle Ojo, said alimony was not fixed.
He said: “The upkeep allowance is not a fixed amount but the court will always look at the status of the individual concerned before arriving at a figure. “If someone is earning as low as N200,000, he cannot be asked to maintain another person with N500,000. So many things are factored into that decision.
“The court will also look at the income and status of the wife as well. The reason is that if the man and his wife are working and they are earning good salaries where they are working, there is no point asking one to maintain the other. So, circumstance, income and status play a role in the court arriving at what an upkeep allowance will be.”
But human rights activist and lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said it was usually decided prior to the determination of the judgement. He said: “What happens is that at the period of the hearing of the divorce case, there will be a conference between the husband and wife. It will be used to determine the state of the children and the state of health and wealth of the partners.
“If it becomes clear that the husband is affluent and well to do, and the wife is indigent and probably have the children with her, surely the judge will make an order for her upkeep and the children.
The upkeep allowance will be determined by the status of the individual concerned and the quantum of his wealth.” This may explain the case of Mrs. Anulika Onyemechi, who got a huge alimony, at least, when compared with what the likes of Mrs. Olaremi Ismaila, Mrs. Sherifat Okunola and Mrs. Modupe Adesiyan were awarded when their marriages crashed.
On April 19, the Aba-la-Ohazu Customary Court in Abia State dissolved the eight-year-old marriage between Mr. Benjamin Onyemechi and Anulika over incompatibility.
Ruling on the divorce suit, the Senior Magistrate, Diamond Olewengwa, said the marriage had broken down irrevocably. Olewengwa said that in line with Anulika’s submission that their marriage was contracted based on religious manipulation of a pastor, the union could not be allowed to continue.
He ruled: “It is clear that the centre can no longer hold. This court will do a great service by severing this union and allowing them to be alive rather not doing so and one party would become history. “
This court must not condone irrationality.
The marriage has broken down irretrievably and hereby stands dissolved.” But Olewengwa ordered Anulika to return the N10,000 bride price Benjamin paid on her through the court and revert to her maiden or any other name she wanted. While granting Anulika the custody of the two children of the marriage till they are 18 years, the senior magistrate ordered Benjamin to pay N50,000 to the woman for severing their union and N30,000 for her property. The magistrate also ordered Benjamin to pay N60,000 monthly for the children’s upkeep.
In his own contribution, Biodun Owonikoko, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said decision on financial support was not about being a man or woman. According to him, it is based on the couple’s assets. He said: “Alimony is not the term we use in our own jurisprudence; that word is more of an American phenomenon.
There is no special position for a wife in Nigeria but rather what we have is settlement for a spouse, either a husband or a wife. And this settlement is on the basis of assets that were accumulated by the family during marriage. “If one of the spouses is the less endowed of the two, when they want to separate, the court would then access the total assets accumulated jointly, especially under the Marriage Act applied in Lagos and generally under the Matrimonial Causes Act which also gives provisions as to how those assets ought to be shared. Hence, the court uses its discretion, with some guidelines, to determine what goes to the spouse; but the court conducts this procedure strictly on the assets generated while the couples were married.
“However, our law on settlement after a couple is divorced is shown in the Matrimonial Causes Act and not in the constitution. The two basic things that come up in the Act when people file for either a divorce or separation are children’s custody and sharing of assets. It is in this process that the issue of settlement comes in and it is not called alimony in Nigeria.”
According to Owonikoko, if the marriage to be dissolved is blessed with underage children, the court will always make provisions for their upkeep and will allocate responsibilities based on the means of either of the party. He added: “If, as often the case, the man is the breadwinner, then the expectation would be that the court will ask the man to make contributions for their upkeep, especially based on their normal lifestyle, education and plan for the children.
That is the way it is done. “But in Nigeria, men are mostly regarded as breadwinners. So when there is a divorce and there are no underage children involved, then the man would contribute only to the upkeep of the wife; a settlement which is done in a belief that she is now left alone and can’t fend for herself. Hence, the court would apportion a certain amount of the assets that belong to the family, and not exclusive to the man, for the woman’s upkeep. Such portion created by the court is referred to as an order of maintenance.
“Now, in the case where the children are underage, depending on who has custody, if it is the man, he can decide that he does not want any contribution from the woman. However, the conduct of the wife is always crucial to this event. For instance, in a situation where the woman has gone to marry another man, then such settlements do not arise. This is because she cannot marry another man and expect another man to be catering for her.” But another SAN, Gani Adetola- Kaseem, recognises alimony. According to him, it is awarded based on the interest of the couple. He said: “The issue of marriage in Nigeria is found written within the marital laws.
We have a Marriage Act under the Matrimonial Causes Act and therefore, alimony is based on the interest of the couple. It involves the financial status of the man in relation to what he can afford, and the status of the woman also. “Alimony is something a man would pay to a woman after they are divorced. However, the sum of money to be paid is not general or fixed but it’s done within the interest of the parties. This simply means that nobody would be expected to pay a certain sum that he cannot afford in term of his income or earnings.
And of course, the income status of the woman would also be considered to determine how much alimony ought to be awarded. “I really cannot give you all the information in details but this is the basic principle.”
While Mama Mike and some others in her shoes feel the pains more especially because of the financial burden of raising the children alone, some other women are more concerned about getting out of acrimonious marriages alive. Some believe it is better to be alive to be able to take care of their children, with the hope that things will get better. Ironically, some women do not mind if they lose their lives inasmuch as they are not pushed out of their matrimonial homes. In that category is Ebere, a 28-year-old woman found in court agonising over her soon-to-end sixyear- old marriage.
The mother of an eight-monthold baby girl and a four-year-old son was narrating her ordeal to some court registrars and others who cared to listen, after court proceedings. Ebere said that despite what she was going through in her marriage, she doubted if she could ever live happily as a single mother.
She said. “I have no issues living with him even if he wants to kill me since marriage is ‘for bet- ter, for worse’. But since he is insisting that I leave the house with our children, I doubt I can ever live happily alone.” Her husband, Francis, had filed a divorce suit on April 20, 2016 but efforts by the court and both families to reconcile the couple were futile.
When asked why her husband sought divorce, Ebere said that he had earlier informed the court that he was afraid she would kill him with poison. She said: “He said that he is afraid I would soon kill him maybe by poisoning his food since I have refused to leave the house and that he has been having nightmares about when he died and I refused to cry.” Ebere was in court to appeal to the judge to ensure that her husband pays for her new accommodation before the date fixed for delivering judgement on the matter.
While leaning on her friend’s body, who simply identified herself as Cynthia (another divorcee), Ebere said that her marriage, which was a pure bliss at the beginning, had now become a huge mess. She said: “When he married me at 21, he was so caring and nice, especially during my first pregnancy but I never knew he was cheating on me. One morning, back in Enugu, I got to know about his affairs, when two single ladies, who lived on the same street and a bit older than me, were cursing and raining abusive words on each other.
“They kept calling each other an ‘ashawo’ and ‘boyfriend snatcher’. I was laughing at them as the scene was embarrassing and funny at the same time but I never knew that my beloved husband was the cause of the fight. I had gone gossiping with a neighbour only for me to be told that my husband was the ‘unknown lover.’
“I just hope that the court will persuade him to secure an accommodation for me and my kids because I don’t have money for that now. Taking care of the kids would be very tough, though my parents have agreed to assist me, after he returns my bride price.”
Some women, on the other hand, are financially stable, hence, do not see the responsibility of single-handedly raising their children as a burden. Ebere’s friend, Cynthia, who divorced in 2007, said she had single- handedly raised her children without support from her former husband. Cynthia said since the court awarded the custody of her four children to her until they are 18 years old, she had neither seen nor received a dime from her former husband. She said: “The court ordered that he should be sending money to me weekly for the children’s upkeep and school fees but he disappeared after deceitfully making the court believe he would. “I have catered diligently and painfully for these children since then; from paying their school fees to feeding and also taking care of my own parents, who are getting old.
Trust me; it is not an easy task being a single parent, especially when you know that the children’s father is still alive. At some point, I would cry when the burden gets too tough financially but I rely solely on God to help me through.” Meanwhile, a businesswoman, who identified herself simply as Mummy Funmi, said she had never been dependent on a man to cater for her needs, not to talk of waiting for alimony. She said: “I have been divorced for 21 years and had never imagined waiting for a man’s peanut to take care of the children I gave birth to.
Even before I got married, I was already rich because I had started my own clothing company and had different businesses running like floor marble tiles, furniture and printing. “I met my husband in the United Kingdom when I travelled for my Master’s degree and one thing led to the other, I got pregnant and we decided to settle down.
“We both come back to Nigeria and I even helped him financially with his business since I was more buoyant than him at the time. But his attitude started growing bad by the day. He stopped being sensitive to how I felt and my opinions didn’t matter to him, until I heard he got another woman pregnant.
Then I realised the cause of the whole issue. I couldn’t stand a cheating boyfriend while I was single and sure knew I can’t stand a cheating husband. “So, I immediately called my lawyer to file for divorce after confirming that he was guilty of the allegation. That was how we both went our separate ways and I kept custody of my three cute boys and a lovely daughter.
“The court ordered that he contributes 60 per cent of the children’s welfare but I wasn’t interested in all that.
All that mattered to me was for him to get out of my life first. I refused to collect a dime from him for the kids, at least to teach him a small reasonable lesson. And I am comfortably taking care of my kids. “Although we are still in good terms and he visits quite often, it always feels awkward when he comes around, because I always refuse collecting whatever he brings or gives to me. “I always encourage women to strive for themselves and not depend totally on men as their means of survival. You never can tell what would happen in that marriage or even to the man.”
But a broken home has advert effects not just on the man and woman but on the products of that failed union. Most times, husbands and wives seeking divorce don’t take the interest of the children into consideration. A broken marriage, according to a psychologist, Prof Bamishaye Oluwatimileyin, can cause ‘psychosomatism’ in children of divorced parents.
Oluwatimileyin, who teaches Psychology at the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ijagun, Ogun State, said such children would become psychosomatic, which, according to him, implies that the children will be traumatised.
He said: “Definitely, such children can now call any male they see around as their father, who they feel is irresponsible because already sociologically and biologically, they have a memory of an irresponsible father. That belief is supported by the story their mummy has told them and so such a bad picture of their father will stick to them.”
According to the psychologist, it can also lead to mental challenge for such children. He added: “There was a female psychologist, Anne Roe, who said there are three good experiences that are important for child growth, and they include emotional concentration and avoidance of the child.
“If a parent fails to cater for the children, this emotional concentration will be affected and it may lead to mental challenge. The same is expected of the avoidance of child, and the third one, which I cannot recollect now, will be affected in the child growth and development.”
•Additional reports by Akeem Nafiu, Mojeed Alabi and John Chikezie