The Twisted Logic of Marriage, Divorce and Alimony in India
I am as much a sexist as I am Jim Caviezel, the actor that virtually laid down his career post playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. And though the topic itself may already draw many polarizing views, still I find it absolutely necessary to ask, “What’s the point of all this?”
The Joke of Alimony
In a recent court settlement in Delhi, while getting a divorce, the wife stated that she had been physically abused. She was supporting four children on a meager salary of Rs. 9000 per month. However, what happened was the complete opposite. When she filed for alimony, the court instead ordered her to pay Rs. 500 per month to her husband. Now why would a court do such a thing? Simply because the husband presented his medical papers in the court and proved that he needed medical treatment and was out of a job.
One can say that at times alimony laws can backfire and cause more damage than already done. The whole point of alimony is to protect the interest of the homemaker who left his/her job to stay at home and take care of the household. In doing so, they let go of any possibility of financial independence. In other words, alimony can be thought of as an arrears payment for the hard work put into the marriage before it failed. But does that mean that the hard work was only put in by the spouse who stayed at home? Didn’t the working spouse work hard to earn bread and butter for the family?
The Prenup Contrast between the Indian and Western societies
Divorce in India is on the rise. In the 1980s, Delhi had only two divorce courts. Now there are 16 of them. According to sources in family courts in Delhi, each family court gets 10-15 divorce petitions each month. In developed countries, it has been observed that alimony is granted by courts mostly if the couple are wealthy or when they are ending a long marriage. In other situations, the main focus is the division of property. But here in India, alimony is granted on the basis of income and background of the couple. According to the experts, the focus of alimony here is to seek monetary relief. Now, why is that? One reason can be the economic independence of women in developed countries. In contrast, here, though the urban woman might be financially independent but what about the women in tier two and three cities? And I am not even talking about the women in villages.
In 2012, while getting a divorce, a woman asked for a total sum of Rs. 150 crore as alimony from her husband. I can just imagine how he might have rued not going in for prenuptial agreement long ago! Which brings us to the topic of the moral and cultural reservations surrounding prenuptial agreements in India.
The Perils of Alimony in Indian Society
According to many couples, even the slightest mention to your partner of a prenuptial agreement can cause them to doubt your intentions in marriage, let alone what the partner’s family would think! Such is the travesty besieging lovebirds in today’s “modern” India. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 enables both the husband and the wife, filing for divorce, to apply for alimony – if at the time of divorce, they were earning less than their spouse, or not earning at all. I am specially bemused by one of the provisions under this law: if a husband is paying alimony to his ex-wife and a few years down the line, her income becomes greater than his, then at that point, the husband can submit a petition stating his earnings are now lesser than hers and that the alimony flow be reversed in his favour. Isn’t this plain absurd? A game of luck than a law of the state, I would say!
Shouldn’t the couple be educated about the benefits of a prenup and how it is not something evil or detrimental to a good marriage?
The New Mantra – Prenups
The speed at which divorce and alimony laws in India are being taken for a toss, I think the time is ripe to make a slight addition to the popular romantic quote “And they lived happily ever after”; it should be – “The alimony payment was settled and they lived happily ever after.”
According to the stats presented by family courts, divorce in India is more common in love marriages. So is the idea of love, of which a great many poets of yesteryears have talked of in their verses, redundant now? And if so, then marriage, divorce, alimony – does it all make any sense to even begin with? It’s time India learnt to be more receptive as knowledge and open discussions about these issues may be the only light at the end.
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