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Home » Court Holdings » Nigerian cases on Child Custody (Rationes decidendi)

Nigerian cases on Child Custody (Rationes decidendi)

Nigerian cases on child custody

Nigerian cases on Child Custody

Here are some Nigerian cases with rationes on the custody of a child.

Factors to be considered in determining the custody of a child


“The principle of law is settled and which is that; in proceedings with respect to the custody, guardianship, welfare, advancement or education of the children of a marriage, the Court shall regard the interests of those children as the paramount consideration and subject thereto, the Court may make such order in respect of these matters as it thinks proper. See SECTION 71(1) OF THE MATRIMONIAL CAUSES ACT. Thus, in awarding custody of a child, the Court will consider the care of the child’s person; morally, physically, and mentally. Hence, the welfare and the interest of the child must be accorded paramountcy where an order of custody of the child is to be made. In fact, the welfare of children of a marriage is not only of paramount consideration but a condition precedent for the award of custody. Custody is never awarded as a reward for good conduct nor is it ever denied as punishment for the guilty party’s matrimonial offences.” Per UCHECHUKWU ONYEMENAM, JCA

The position of the Law on the right to custody of children


“I think, it is apposite, at this juncture to resort to the position of the law on the right to custody of children in situation where a marriage has been broken down, and the husband and wife (father and mother) are no longer living together. In Okwueze v. Okwueze (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 109) P. 321 @ 334, the Supreme Court, when dealing with the right to custody of children of a dissolved marriage which was conducted under Native Law and custom, enunciated that under most systems of Customary Law in Nigeria, a father of a legitimate or legitimated child has absolute right to custody of the child. However, the Customary Laws recognizes that such absolute right of the father will not be entered where it will be detrimental to the welfare or well-being of the child’

In Odogwu v. Odogwu (1992) 2 NWLR (Pt. 225) P.539 @ 560, the Supreme Court enunciated that if the parents are separated and the child of the union is of tender age, it is presumed that the child will be happier with the mother and no order will be made against this presumption unless it is abundantly clear that the contrary is the situation for example immorality of the mother, infectious disease on the mother insanity, and or her cruelty to the child. For this purpose custody proceedings could even be adjourned to the judge’s chambers where an informal hearing of the child’s view could be assessed along with those of the parents. Ojo v. Ojo (1969) 1 All NLR 434; Apara v. Apara (1968) l All NLR 241.

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E. I. Nwogugu, in his book on Family Law in Nigeria, 1974, (Reprinted 1985) dealing with custody of children under Customary law put the position of the law succinctly thus:

Under most systems of Customary Law in Nigeria, the father has the absolute right to the custody of his legitimate or legitimated children. On the death of the father, the custody of the child is vested in the male head of the father’s family, though the mother has the day-to-day care of the child.

However, Customary Law recognizes that the father’s absolute right will not be enforced where it will be detrimental to the child’s welfare. For instance, where the child is of tender age, Customary Law requires that it should be left under the care of the mother. In such a case, the father’s right is merely in abeyance, and may be exercised when the child could safely be separated from the mother. ” Margaret C. Onokah, in her BOOK FAMILY LAW, 2002, wrote that: “Under Customary Law, a father has exclusive custodial right over the children of his marriage. This right extends beyond custody, to “ownership” of the children. Thus his right has been described as capable of transmission to his family members. The wife has no such rights over her children. During separation or on dissolution of a marriage under Customary Law, the father has custody of the children of the marriage. This exclusive custodial right of a father over the children of the marriage does not obtain under statutory marriage. In this latter, the Court determines which of the parents has custody of the children, ‘the paramount consideration being the welfare of the children themselves. This rule of Customary Law hinged on the fact that most Nigerian communities are patrilineal (a few being the opposite matrilineal) by reason of which children belong to their fathers’ lineage.

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How can the right of custody of children be determined under the Customary Law? The answer to the foregoing question can be found in the case of Okwueze v. Okwueze (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt.109) P. 321 @ 335, wherein UWAIS J.S.C (as he then was) said:

“The only proper manner in which the custody of a child under Customary Law can be determined is by specifically taking evidence to establish what is in the best interest and welfare of the child. Like the Customary Court, the High Court failed to do so. Its decision cannot, therefore, be said not to have caused a miscarriage of justice. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal made the same mistake since it agreed with the decision of the Customary Court which has been shown to have been a misdirection. It too based its decision merely on the request made by the respondent in the Customary Court to have custody of the children and not on evidence adduced to determine the interest and welfare of the children” ” – per. IBRAHIM SHATA BDLIYA, J.C.A.

Custody of children in the realm of ancillary relief


“The issue of custody of children under the Matrimonial Causes Act falls in the realm of an ancillary Relief. In respect of the propriety of its grant, the Supreme Court in the case ofADENUGA VS. ODUMERU (2001) 1 SC PT. 1 PG. 72 stated as follows: “Since the Jurisdiction of the Court is determined by Plaintiff’s Claim, the Court will not grant any Ancillary Relief not within the purview of the main claim.” Per Bage, JCA in EIGBE VS. EIGBE (2012) LPELR 19690.” – Per UZO IFEYINWA NDUKWE, JCA

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12 Responses

  1. Hello, can you recommend a lawyer that can help with the statutory law of child in Nigeria? Especially as related to the custody after the dead of the father.

  2. This is highly educational. Thank you for putting this out. The sharp difference between what is obtainable under customary law marriage and marriage under the Act as it relates to child custody is really helpful to me.

  3. I found this so educative and enlightening. It is so much helpful to me. Thanks to the good legal team you have here.

  4. What if it’s a case of child out of wedlock and the father hasn’t been carrying out his responsibilities, can the full custody go to the mother?

    1. Hey Jay. It is clear from judicial authorities cited that the welfare of the child is the principal point of consideration in child custody matters. Thus we can conclude that even where a customary law that encourages paternal custody applies, the court may decide in favour of the mother, considering the best interest of the child.

  5. Thanks for this. Quite insightful.

    How about when the child (boy) is born out of wedlock and has been with the mother exclusively for the seven years of his life;

    The mother is not married but the father is, with other children;

    Both of them are salary earners but the father earns more than the mother of the child;

    There is no love relationship between the two any longer;

    The father is visiting regularly and providing for the child’s medical care, clothing, education to a large extent and monthly financial support;

    The mother does not allow the child to visit the father, even though the father is willing;

    The mother feels the supports are not sufficient and that the father should take full responsibilities according to her dictates.

    Can the mother seek to have sole custody of the child and also have the father fund the responsibilities 100%?

    Thank you.

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