Divorce in India – Fast and furious growth!
Divorce in India is no longer the rare breed of animal we get to hear about in a distant world. ‘Divorce’ or the big D word is now heard more frequently than before.
While high-profile celebrity divorces are treated as salacious sources of speculation and gossip in India, the reality is considerably different when divorce happens to ordinary couples. Complex socio-cultural factors, convoluted legal system and divorce procedure, and the conservative mindset of society make divorce in India a very a challenging task. In fact, it can be confusing and outright scary to go through a divorce in India.
While no official statistics are available, it is generally accepted that the divorce rate in India is very low as compared to developed nations like the UK which has a divorce rate of 2.8 divorces in 1000.
India lacks a central registry of divorce data but the information gleaned from family court magistrates suggest that the rate of divorce in India happens to be highest in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata, and Lucknow. In fact, three more family courts had to be opened in Bangalore to cater to the growing number of divorce cases.
4 Reasons for increase in divorce in India
The alarming increase in the number of cases related to divorce in India indicates a steady but subtle shift in the underlying socio-cultural fabric of the country. There are four primary reasons for this trend.
1. The reduced influence of the joint family
The concept of the joint family had a very disciplinary effect on marriages where couples stayed together through really rough patches and difficult times to appease the needs/respect of the family. The concept of nuclear family, on the other hand, gives couples more liberty to think only about their own interests leading to an increased tendency to divorce.
Nuclear families don’t have the support system that a joint family may offer to tide over a crisis. A joint family set up provides the option of mediation and also imposes peer pressure in ensuring a successful marriage.
2. Women are becoming more independent
Another factor that contributes to this increasing trend of divorce in India is the fact that women are psychologically and financially more independent now leading them to break free from what can be termed as “restraining” or “unsatisfactory” marriages.
Women in India have already started to exercise choice before marriage as their economic and educational background is improving. The same trend is seen in decisions after marriage. Educated working women may not have the time needed to focus on running the household and this creates a lot of stress on the family resulting in divorce.
3. Late marriages mean lesser ‘tolerance’ for change in lifestyle
Couples nowadays get married late in life and both partners enter wedlock with fixed behaviour patterns and lifestyle, making it more difficult for them to adjust to each other.
Couples in India often find that they have nothing in common only after marriage. They cannot get along, have unresolved differences, and cannot agree on anything!
Here is an extract from Psychology Today that sums up the situation for many couples – Invariably, we yearn for perfection but are stuck with an imperfect human being. We all fall in love with people we think will deliver us from life’s wounds but who wind up knowing how to rub against us.
4. Divorce is no longer a big deal!
Family court lawyers indicate a changing perspective towards divorce and a marked reduction in the stigma associated with divorces, which is why couples opt out of a marriage that has in essence degraded. The reasons for divorce earlier used to be property disputes, domestic violence, and family issues while modern age couples file for divorce because of emotional incompatibility, lifestyle differences, and disenchantment with each other.
Data collected from psychotherapists and marriage counsellors indicate that couples are more willing to end a marriage that isn’t working. In fact, the practice of attending counselling sessions or therapy goes beyond mending the relationship. In many cases, families are also counselled about the need to support the couple’s decision to seek a divorce.
Indian women and divorce – Bankruptcy or Liberation?
While divorce in India is generally not looked upon favourably, there has been a growing acceptance of the fact that marriages do end and that divorce is not a sin. The way the woman is treated post-divorce depends on her individual circumstances, financial position and the strata of society she belongs to.
People in the metros tend to be more accommodating and understanding about divorce as compared to people living in small towns and suburbs.
Most modern Indian women view divorce in the context of their circumstances. For example, if the woman is financially liberated and has a strong sense of individuality hen she will probably view divorce as a precursor to a better life.
However, in case, the woman lives in an environment where divorce is still regarded as a taboo and she is not financially independent, divorce automatically becomes the last resort to escape her personal misery and worth the trauma of dealing with the stigma associated with a divorced woman.
Here is one woman’s response to the question in Yahoo! answers about the general views on divorce in India.
Times have changed and so have marriages. People are now choosing their partners and are taking action if they are unhappy with its outcome. Yes, they can still remarry after having a divorce. At least, that is what I think can happen in urban areas. Things are different in rural areas, where honour, pride, and respect matter above everything else.
In spite of the changing attitude towards divorce, most divorced women are subjected to unwanted male attention as they are automatically regarded as “free-spirited “ and “willing sexual partners”.
There is still an underlying assumption that if a woman is divorced she has a flaw in her character. Married women tend to stay away from divorced women categorising the later as potential threats to their marriage.
Legal and financial position of women after divorce
The Marriage Law Amendment Bill 2010 was first introduced in the Rajya Sabha in August 2010 and the Government is still considering the amendment of marriage laws in India. Currently the clause of “irretrievable differences “is not considered to be sufficient grounds for divorce in India.
Check out this interesting debate on the pros and cons of strengthening divorce laws in India to support women going through a divorce.
Women often end up with a bad bargain when they go through a divorce in India. A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of India granted a divorce to a man on the basis that his wife refused to stay with her husband and in-laws after marriage!
Women are also short-changed from a financial perspective when they go through a divorce. Presently, the maintenance amount (varying between 2% to 10% of the husband’s income) is only granted by the court after production of the necessary documentation from women. In many cases, the woman does not have access to such documents.
According to New York Times, “In India, where tax authorities estimate just 3 percent of the population pays personal income tax, and “black money” or under-the-table cash is common, the man’s actual earnings are often hidden. Additionally, the wife may not have access to documents that prove what her husband earns.”
Until the time suitable amendments are made in the legal system, divorce continues to be a raw deal in the financial sense for the Indian woman.
Indian men and divorce – Culprits or Victims?
For the modern Indian man, divorce is no longer weighed down with so many negative repercussions as it was even 5 years back. Most Indian men are now more readily convinced to divorce their partner on grounds like “emotional mismatch”, “lifestyle differences” and “differing aspirations”.
Here is an interesting story of a man who ended his marriage citing lifestyle differences.
Soumik Pal, a 35-year-old Mumbai surgeon, met his wife, a Tamilian and also a doctor when they were in medical college. They married after a short courtship. But soon, Pal realised it was impossible to live with an “extremely domineering” woman. He felt she always wanted him to do things her way. Adding fuel to the fire were the many cultural differences, likes and dislikes in food and so on. The last straw was when Pal realised her family in Pondicherry wanted them to settle there. In three months, he decided to end the marriage and be on his own.
Men in India are now increasingly leading lives outside the restrictive framework of the joint family unit thus making the dissolution of the marriage an easier step.
Considering the fact that India does not have a uniform civil code, different communities treat divorce based on religious and cultural grounds.
Muslim men in India are allowed to divorce using the Triple Talaq. There was even a case of a Muslim man divorcing his wife via Whatsapp!
The Hindu personal law allows divorce petitions if the couple has been living separately for one year while the Christian personal law requires at least two years of separation.
Intercaste marriages that head for a divorce also face significant complications for men (as well as women).
However, the power equation in divorce is not always in favour of men in India. There is a growing clutch of divorce cases where women and their families are misusing laws meant to protect women from domestic abuse and fraud.
An article titled “How the Indian women misuse the law for divorce“, published in the DailyO.in, talks about numerous instances when women or their families used Section 498-A to benefit from a divorce by hook or by crook.
A total of 63,343 married men committed suicide in 2012, with a fair amount of them having faced domestic problems,” says Amit Gupta of Hridaya, a men’s rights organisation.
“It is the middle class that bears the brunt of this draconian law,” says men’s rights activist Deepika Bhardwaj. “A hard-working middle-class family needs to cough up huge sums of money to save face in their society while the rich want the matter to die quickly and settle for the sum asked. This could be in crores.”
Not surprisingly, there are a growing number of men joining self-help groups or seeking support from men’s rights advocates to navigate the complex web of divorce laws and their interpretation in the Indian context.
When it comes to divorced men attempting to re-marry, discreet and overt inquiries are made about the man’s character. While Indian society is more forgiving towards a divorced man (when compared to a divorced woman), the issue of remarriage sometimes poses a problem as the prospective bride’s family tries to delve deep into marital past of the man.
Things to consider before heading for a divorce
Divorce disrupts the basic fabric of life and there are far too many couples in India who try to rush into the process only to find that it’s not that easy for anybody. In reality, there are many things that should be carefully considered before the decision to divorce is taken.
Here are 10 things that every person heading for a divorce should consider
1. Divorce (both for the man as well as the woman) changes the socio-cultural setup. There is a change in the way the society views a divorcee and many common friends take sides with one or the other partner. A person might suddenly find friends/ relatives turning hostile after the divorce.
2. There are many workplaces that still subtly discriminate against divorcees and treat them as sources of speculation. In some conservative workplaces like schools, the discrimination becomes overt while in other cases disapproval is expressed through social exclusion and malicious gossip.
3. A person who is about to file for divorce should carefully consider whether he/she is mentally prepared for the emotional repercussions of staying alone and dealing with feelings of anxiety and loneliness.
4. Financial assets (if shared) will also have to be separated legally. If the divorce is not amicable there is a bitter tussle about who owns the assets and the division ratio. If most assets are in the man’s name the woman is left high and dry.
5. Divorce involves long and tiresome paperwork involved. Even if a lawyer handles the majority of paperwork, a lot of time is required in reading and signing documents, forms, and countless other notices.
6. Divorce still represents a social stigma as it goes against the Indian traditional belief that “marriages are forever”. Partners are questioned about the logic or validity of the divorce by friends, family, and colleagues.
7. Joint insurance plans, health insurance schemes cannot be owned jointly anymore and the estranged couple has to dissolve all such plans. This involves a lot of time and effort and often there is a loss of benefits.
8. Divorce especially a non-mutual one is an expensive option in India. Both partners have to shell out a huge amount of money for the lawyer’s fees.
9. The divorce case might drag on for years leading to emotional and physical exhaustion.
10. The most sensitive issue for would-be divorcees is their kids who are badly affected by the divorce. It is very important to counsel kids before and after the divorce so that they are able to come to terms with the painful transition in their lives.
Can mutual separation be another alternative?
Most people suffer from the wrong notion that divorce and separation are the same while in essence, they are not. While divorce ends a marriage completely, a mutual separation will give both parties time to think and cool off before they reach a decision as to whether or not the marriage should be continued.
There are different kinds of legal separation options available in India:
A Trial Separation Clause gives couples an opportunity to reconcile their differences. The court fixes a time period between 2 weeks to 2 months for a trial separation.
A Living Apart Clause enables couples to reside separately for a fixed amount of time. This happens when the couple has decided not to co-habit.
A Permanent Separation happens when the couple wants to live separately but maintain all joint property and assets. Couples can still maintain the same bank accounts and insurance plans under this clause.
A legal separation is almost like a divorce as property and asset division happens. The only difference between legal separation and divorce is that divorce is necessary before remarriage.
There are many benefits that come with legal separation as social and health insurance benefits can still be accessed by a separated spouse. The separation mode gives couples a chance to still revive the marriage. In any case, apart from cases of intolerable mental and physical cruelty, separation is probably a better alternative to divorce.
Indian law is yet to catch up with the reality of divorce
The Indian legal system till date remains anti-divorce. It is significantly more difficult to obtain a divorce in India as compared to western nations like USA, UK, and Australia.
Only a few reasons such as impotence, chronic degenerative disease, mental/ physical torture, abandonment can be considered as legal grounds for divorce in India. The legal system has not evolved as swiftly as the socio-cultural fabric which is why many couples have to fight a long and bitter battle to obtain a divorce.
The recent changes in the divorce laws include the introduction of the Marriage Laws Act as well as the 2010 Amendment Bill that seeks to make the much-needed changes in the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act. The inclusion of the clause of irretrievable breakdown is one major change that is likely to take place soon.
Changes need to be made to the divorce laws to ensure that the number of false dowry and torture cases registered under the protection of women from domestic violence is reduced. It has come to light that many partners use these clauses to pressurise the other party into divorce and then claim alimony.
The laws pertaining to divorce in India do not reflect the realities of modern life and are in severe need of amendment and change. Many lawyers use the legal loopholes to extract huge sums of money from the harassed couple.
Divorce in India – Our verdict
Indian society has evolved a lot in the last decade. The perspective towards divorce in India varies drastically across all classes of society, all economic strata, and all geographical locations.
In the metro cities, perspectives towards divorce have changed but the vast majority of small towns and suburbs still maintain a rigid viewpoint and consider divorce to be unacceptable.
The general consensus of the society is still to question “who wronged whom” making the divorce a battle between right (the partner who didn’t initiate the divorce) and wrong (the partner who filed for divorce).
In many matrimonial advertisements, it is seen that the prefix “innocent” is added before the word ‘divorcee’ so as to claim that the divorce was not initiated by that person and she was simply the “victim” of a bad marriage. You can read more about this trend here.
As a rule, it can be said that though divorce has now become a far more familiar word than before the Indian society is still struggling to take the word in its right spirit.
The general concept of a divorce happening because two people have irreconcilable differences is not accepted. Instead, divorce is construed to be some kind of moral battle. This perspective is responsible for the prolonged emotional trauma that people undergoing divorce in India still have to face.
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