The end game She worked as a senior officer in the Delhi civilservices, and used her salary to run the household. He, also an administrative officer, saved all his earnings and bought property in his name. In the 15 years of their marriage, this was their arrangement. But when this couple got divorced two years ago, says their lawyer
Meenakshi Lekhi, the judge denied her alimony because she was working and could support herself. Despite contributing economically to her marriage, she was left with no rights to her husband’s property. Such women, Lekhifeels, would benefit if the law gave them a share in the husband’s property. Sharing matrimonial property is, in fact, one of the divorce-related clauses proposed in the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which seeks to amend parts of the Hindu Marriage Act and the SpecialMarriage
Act. The bill was cleared by cabinet on March 23 and, if passed by Parliament, could change divorce litigation. ‘Irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ could become a new ground for divorce, women could get matrimonial property rights and the six-month cooling period before a divorce would no longer be mandatory in cases of mutual consent.
The response to these proposed amendments has been as celebratory as condemning. In India, where the nuances of divorce depend on the social context, lawyers, counsellors and couples are fiercely divided about each clause.
To seek divorce by mutual consent, couples can file a case only after a year ofseparation, followed by a six-month cooling off time. The proposed waiver of this cooling period in the bill has evoked mixed reactions. “Some marriages are doomed from the beginning, so why should the couple wait for six months?” says Aishwarya Bhati, a lawyer from Delhi. Others believe speeding up divorces could hurt some couples. “I have seen couples reconciling during the cooling period,” says Mumbai-based lawyer Anshumol Kumar.
When the bill was first presented to the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it chiefly sought to introduce ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as a new ground for divorce. In this ‘no-fault’ clause, either spouse can seek a divorce after three years ofseparation without having to prove the failure of the marriage in court. For many, this has been a long-standing demand. “Sometimes there is just no compatibility. It makes no sense to
continue a relationship that’s dead,” says Abbas Mookhtiar, a Mumbai lawyer.
The proposition, however, faced opposition from women’s rights groups, who believed the move would allow Indian men to end marriages easily, leaving non-working women with just a meagre maintenance or alimony. To empower women in such situations, a Parliamentary standing committee recommended equal rights to matrimonial property as a counter-clause, recognising housewives as performing an important, but we have a long way to go.