Who Takes Over The Properties Of Unmarried Lovers After A Breakup?


Daily Law Tips (Tip 803) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

Introduction:

Love is a beautiful thing and one of the most powerful forces on earth. The popular international award-winning musician (David Adeleke), popularly known as “Davido”, sang in his song (“Assurance”), that; “Love is sweet, oh … when money enter, love is sweeter”. The artist in his masterpiece dedicated to his erstwhile unmarried lover (Ms. Chioma), explains the influence and role of wealth in every relationship.

Wealth is one of the lubricants for the expression of love and often leads to massive acquisition of properties (movable and immovable properties). However, love does not often lead to marriage or last forever. So, unlike in marriages, where after a divorce there is a laid down procedure for sharing and settlement of property, what happens where there is no marriage. Who Takes Over the Properties of Unmarried Lovers After a Breakup?

Sharing of Property of Unmarried Lovers After Breakup:

If it is true that, for everything that has a beginning, there must be an end, then love cannot be an exception. Love will end in a breakup or death of a partner, before or after marriage. So, what happens to the property acquired during the love? The focus here, is on separated (former) lovers that were never married and the fate of their properties. My earlier work, titled; “Who Takes Over the Property After Divorce?” < https://learnnigerianlaws.com/who-takes-over-the-property-after-divorce/> focused on the sharing and settlement of marital property of married lovers after their marriage.

Often there are properties (moveable and immovable) that lovers exchange among themselves, until their love hits a rock. Some lovers may fight themselves over gifts that they exchanged. It is important to mention that; gifts are free and voluntary donations made by a person to another, which becomes final and irreversible the moment the gift is received. Generally, a gift is always a gift. On this premises, a person cannot recover properties gifted to his/her ex-lover. However, there are few exceptions to this definition, and they make up the circumstances for a gift to be revoked, reversed and recalled.

Among the few circumstances that allow gifts to be reversed, recalled and recovered, are; where a gift was obtained by fraud, force or on a condition that was never fulfilled. However, it is safer to attempt to recover a gift through a court of law, to avoid violating any law. My earlier works on gifts have treated in detail, the issues of gifts in Nigeria and are accessible via; “How To Prove Gifts In Nigeria” < https://learnnigerianlaws.com/how-to-prove-gifts-in-nigeria/>; “Acceptance of Gift and Effect of Failure to Accept Gift” <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/acceptance-of-gift-and-effect-of-failure-to-accept-gift/>; “Who Can Make Gifts And What Are His Powers?” <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/who-can-make-gifts-and-what-are-his-powers-daily-law-tips-tip-560-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/>; “It Is An Offence To Give Gifts And Money For Election In Any Part Of Nigeria” <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-273-it-is-an-offence-to-give-gifts-and-money-for-election-in-any-part-of-nigeria/> and “Can An Inheritance Under A ‘Will’ Be Rejected?” <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/can-an-inheritance-under-a-will-be-rejected-daily-law-tips-tip-563-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/>.

When love goes south, unmarried lovers may wish to share and settle certain properties that they purchased and owned together. So, the focus here is how such properties are to be shared among unmarried lovers in Nigeria. Recently, the Nigerian court had an opportunity to rule on this issue in the case of DANIEL EHOHAN OGHOYONE V. PATIENCE ADESUA OGHOYONE (2010). Reliance will be placed only in the decision of the Court of Appeal in this case on the subject matter.

The Court of Appeal in the case of DANIEL EHOHAN OGHOYONE V. PATIENCE ADESUA OGHOYONE was to rule on the ownership of a property (Plot L Block 26 Amuwo Odofin Scheme) that was being contested by ex-lovers (DANIEL EHOHAN OGHOYONE and PATIENCE ADESUA OGHOYONE). Arguments were made that the ex-lovers were not married and as such were merely co-habiting and living together as friends. As such, the male lover argued that the female lover should not make claims to the property, since both were not married. However, the female lover had proofs of her contributions to the construction of the property and as such claimed that she is a co-owner of the property. This meant that the court was to rule, on “Who Takes Over the Properties of Unmarried Lovers After a Breakup?”. Below are the words of the court:

“The learned trial Judge had a duty to make a pronouncement on what becomes of the property after the marriage had been declared void. Section 17 of the married women’s property Act confers on the Judge power to make orders in respect of property in dispute as he thinks fit and such on order must be fair, just and equitable. That the parties share proceeds of the sale equally is what is expected in equity.”

“If on the other hand the fact that the marriage is void means no property rights accrue, then the parties were simply living together as friends or in a similar manner. What then becomes of property they both claim to have contributed to purchase? Surely such property can only be addressed in the way the learned trial Judge has done.”

“I am satisfied that the order of the learned trial Judge on Plot L Block 26 Amuwo Odofin Scheme was fair, just and equitable. It would be unconscionable for any party to claim exclusive ownership. Bearing in mind the changing social and economic realities, a Judge is to ascertain the parties shared intentions, actual, inferred with respect to the property in the light of their conduct. In that light I am satisfied that when the going was good the parties made contributions to ensure that the hand good living accommodation. When the going turns bad it is only right and equitable that each side recoups its contribution and call it a day.”

In summary, the Court of Appeal emphasized that where lovers are not married, rather were living together, if their love vanishes, their property will be shared among them. Gone are the days that men took over the properties they purchased and owned together with their ex-lovers, merely because they were men. Unmarried lovers are free to recover their contributions in a love affair at any time, so far as they were not gifts. Every person in Nigeria has equal rights to own property. If love does not work, then each lover is to leave with his/her contributions to the love, so far as the contribution was not a gift. Gifts are gifts forever, after all, “Love is sweet, oh … when money enter, love is sweeter”.

Conclusion:

Love provokes giving and some giving can be gifts, loans, grants and contributions. The nature of the giving of unmarried lovers determines the fate of their giving, when love is over. Unlike any other giving, GIFT is irreversible, not recoverable, not recallable, not revocable, except for some few exemptions, shown above. For this reason, movable and immovable properties gifted to any person or lover (married or unmarried) are gone forever and belongs to the receiver of the gift.

The contributions and loans of unmarried lover are reversible, recoverable, recallable and revocable. Unmarried lovers can recover any contribution, loan, property or items exchanged (but not gifted) among themselves at any time. Unmarried people are merely co-habiting and living together (even making babies) and are not married.

Cohabiting and living together as mere friends are dangerous affairs, that may affect the rights of the lovers, beyond their imagination. It is advisable to be very intentional in the type of relationship one joins and the nature of giving one makes.

My authorities, are:

  1. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 33 to 45, 318 and 319 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (on the meaning of Gift Inter Vivos) in the case of ANYAEGBUNAM v. OSAKA & ORS (2000) LPELR-508(SC)
  3. The Supreme Court’s decision (on effect of “Acceptance” to a gift) in the case of ANYAEGBUNAM v. OSAKA & ORS (2000) LPELR-508(SC)
  4. The Supreme Court’s decision (on whether a gift can be rejected) in the case of EBOSIE v. PHIL-EBOSIE & ORS (1976) LPELR-994(SC)
  5. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (on proving Gift) in the case of EKWEOZOR & ORS v. REG. TRUSTEES OF THE SAVIOUR’S APOSTOLIC CHURCH OF NIG (2020) LPELR-49568(SC)
  6. The judgment of the Court of Appeal (on the revocation of Gift) in the case of GABDO v. USMAN (2015) LPELR-25678(CA)
  7. The judgment of the Court of Appeal (on the sharing of properties of unmarried lovers after a breakup) in the case of DANIEL EHOHAN OGHOYONE V. PATIENCE ADESUA OGHOYONE (2010) LCN/3530(CA)
  8. Onyekachi Umah, “How To Prove Gifts In Nigeria” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 9 April 2021) < https://learnnigerianlaws.com/how-to-prove-gifts-in-nigeria/> accessed 2 June 2021)
  9. Onyekachi Umah, “Acceptance of Gift and Effect of Failure to Accept Gift” (com, 20 August 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/acceptance-of-gift-and-effect-of-failure-to-accept-gift/> accessed 2 June 2021
  10. ”Onyekachi Umah, “Who Can Make Gifts And What Are His Powers?” (com, 1 May 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/who-can-make-gifts-and-what-are-his-powers-daily-law-tips-tip-560-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/> accessed 2 June 2021
  11. Onyekachi Umah, “It Is An Offence To Give Gifts And Money For Election In Any Part Of Nigeria”(com, 21 February 2019) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-273-it-is-an-offence-to-give-gifts-and-money-for-election-in-any-part-of-nigeria/> accessed 2 June 2021
  12. Onyekachi Umah, “Can An Inheritance Under A “Will” Be Rejected?” (com, 6 May 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/can-an-inheritance-under-a-will-be-rejected-daily-law-tips-tip-563-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/> accessed 2 June 2021
  13. Onyekachi Umah, “Abolishment Of Custom Where Daughters Are Forced Not To Marry In Order To Perpetuate Their Fathers’ Lineages” (com, 12 March 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/abolishment-of-custom-where-daughters-are-forced-not-to-marry-in-order-to-perpetuate-their-fathers-lineages-daily-law-tips-tip-524-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/> accessed 2 June 2021

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