The scene was not as bizarre as some of the revelations that came up during the proceedings. The audience in the courtroom was perplexed as a couple of 25 years went their different ways.
The divorce case before an Agege customary Court was not the cause of consternation, but the drama that unfolded when the issue of sharing their Oke-Kote property came up for mentioning.
The woman, who claimed to have once loved her husband dearly, threw caution to the wind and insisted on total control of the six-room building because she suffered much in the hands of the man while they were building the house. However, the title documents to the property bore the husband’s names.
It was only recently that a semblance of sanity crept into the messy property-sharing controversy trailing the divorce case of a former minister who is also a prominent politician and his estranged ex-wife.
After years of bickering over the politician’s vast estate, to which the woman was claiming half as divorce settlement, the parties to the case recently informed the judge of a possible out-of-court settlement. Whether this will work out as anticipated is a matter that will be known with time.
The above scenario underlie the extent to which a once-happy union between a man and a woman could go sour as a result of bickering over the joint property of the couple or that of either party after a break-up. Dividing the property to the satisfaction of all concerned has remained a daunting legal and social task.
In the United States of America, the issue of divorce is taken seriously because of the cost involved in settling the case, which is called alimony.
Alimony is the money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (10 years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called “spouse support” or “maintenance”.
It is common for a divorcing couple to decide about dividing their property and debts themselves (with or without the help of a neutral party or a mediator), rather than leaving it to the judge. But, if a couple cannot agree, they can submit their property dispute to the court, which will use state law rules to divide the property.
The issue of property sharing in a divorce situation is a very knotty one. The ideal situation is to prevent a relationship from breaking down irretrievably. Once a marriage has been dissolved, the court will value the couple’s property and decide on whether to sell it or not. If it is eventually sold, the court will ensure the proceeds are shared equally.
But in a situation where either of the parties is emotionally attached to the property and is not ready to relinquish residency, such a person will have to pay off the other’s interests.
Where the property is dispute is jointly bought or built by the couple, they have to ensure that the title documents bear their respective names; otherwise, the party whose name appears on the documents will be deemed in law to own the property.
If joint ownership is however established, the couple with the collaboration of the court could sell the property or lease it out and share the profit. However, the best option is to sell in order to avoid future contacts and complications.
The law does not particularly favour the woman in Nigeria, unlike in the USA, because the proceeds will have to be shared equally. But in the latter, the law appears to favour the weaker party to the union. However, where children are involved, the law takes care of their interests ahead of their parents’.
To reduce the burden of alimony on either party, intending couples in the US now enter into pre-nuptial contract that spells out the entitlement of the spouses in case of a divorce.
When determining alimony in a divorce proceeding, the court will consider the ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting; time necessary for the party to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment; standard of living that the parties established during their marriage; duration of the marriage; monetary and non-monetary contributions of each party to the well-being of the family and the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.
Others include the age of each party; their physical and mental condition; ability of the party’s needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking alimony; any agreement between the parties; and financial needs and financial resources of each party.