The government’s move to make divorce a quicker process has been largely welcomed as a long overdue step though some women activists and lawyers have voiced doubts over doing away with the six month cooling off period.
The common strain among the women was that law should move along with changing times and there should not be any mechanical import of western ideas.
“I welcome it. Divorce should be made easier and the laws should keep pace with the changing times,” Rekha Palli, a Supreme Court lawyer, told.
Welcoming the move to make divorce easier, lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi slammed the move to make “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” as ground of divorce. This would amount to giving the husband an excuse to walk out of the marriage for a much younger spouse, she said.
The union cabinet on Friday approved the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill 2010 by which “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” was included as a ground for dissolving the marriage.
Besides this, the cabinet also approved giving the divorced wife a share in husband’s property that he had acquired after marriage, and the adopted child getting same rights to property as are available to biological offspring of the couple.
It also left the existing cooling off period of six months to the discretion of the court.
“I think it is a welcome move. We have been demanding it for long,” Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research told. “Share in the marital property is a very welcome move because as it stands today when a wife walks out of difficult marriage she has nothing to start afresh.
“But her share in marital property should have been specified and not left to the courts as it would mean more and more endless litigation,” Ranjana Kumari said.
The cabinet under the approved amended bill has provided that the wife would have a right to wave a red flag in the event of the husband pressing for divorce on the grounds of “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”, but the same was not available to the husband in case the wife decides to seek dissolution of marriage on grounds of irrevocable breakdown of marriage.
Welcoming the incorporation of “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” as ground for divorce, Ranjana Kumari says that doing away with the six months cooling off period is not good.
“A hold on period at times helps in cooling frayed tempers and the marriage is saved,” she says, adding that “after all in our society marriage is sacred thing”.
Giving the right to property to the adopted child at par with that of a biological offspring is also a welcome step as under the present dispensation this equality of right is not there, she added.
Apex court lawyer Aparna Bhat says the cabinet decision has not made anything easier. “All that has been done is that irreconcilable difference has been added as another ground for divorce.
“How has the entire process becomes easier,” asks Bhat, posing what would happen if a wife opposes the husband’s plea for divorce.
“Perhaps this (irreconcilable difference) may make divorce process easier for the women as husband cannot oppose it,” she says.
“What has happened was long overdue. I don’t know why India took so long to do what other civilized countries had done long ago,” lawyer Rebecca John told.
The proposed amendments would make divorce law more humane and sensitive to the contesting couple and adding irreconcilable difference as a ground for divorce is good, says Rebecca.
Meenakshi Lekhi, who is fighting the case of women officers seeking permanent commissions in the army, wonders how could the rights of a legally adopted child be different from a biological offspring of a couple.
She describes as “complicated” the provision giving the wife a right to property that she and her husband had acquired during their married life. She also asks “would a wife who is just one year in marriage be entitled to property inherited or earned by her husband?
“How could a wife walking away with whatever share of husband’s property be reconciled with the maintenance that she is entitled under the existing law,” asks Lekhi.
“The proposal to leave to the courts the waiting period before divorce is actually granted is in tune with an earlier provision which was wrongly interpreted by the Supreme Court giving it a fixed term which over a period of time became the law of the land,” she says.
Lekhi says that “what is evident from the proposed changes in the law is that its authors have no grounding in law, nor are they the practitioners of law”