Divorce in India — Here's what every woman should know if she has to face it
A lawyer helps you avoid nasty surprises
“Hum ek baar jeete hain, ek baar marte hain. Shaadi bhi ek hi baar hoti hai…” Kuch Kuch Hota Hai may have had you swooning, but real life rarely imitates reel life. According to research conducted by Unified Lawyers, the global divorce rate has increased by 251.8% since 1960.
Divorce in India is a long and costly affair if contested, but even those who mutually agree to part ways must prove they’ve been separated for a year before the courts consider their plea.
“There are also issues such as streedhan, splitting of assets and liabilities, custody issues (if you have kids), maintenance and more,” says advocate Nidhi Yogesh Vyas.
Three women share their experiences of going through divorce in India, and Vyas advises them on the best moves.
Real tales of dealing with divorce in India
‘He’s fighting for custody’
Vedanshi Sharma, a Mumbai-based homemaker, was caught off-guard when her husband of 15 years told her he had fallen in love with someone else. She filed for divorce last year, and is now in a custody battle over their daughters aged 7 and 9.
She says, “He’s saying I have no means to support the kids and their lifestyle. He is ready to grant me divorce by mutual consent if I give up custody of my girls. It’s been harrowing.”
Advocate Vyas says:
• Since Sharma is unemployed, her husband has to pay interim maintenance for her and her children. He will also pay her lawyer’s fees. The interim maintenance will be decided by the court before the case begins.
• Adultery is one of the grounds under which a person is granted divorce in India.
• Children are rarely uprooted so if the girls are comfortable with the mother, custody is highly unlikely to be granted to the father.
‘Our ideologies never matched’
Vaishnavi Jha, 25, moved to Mumbai from Jaipur in 2018 to get away from her husband. “We had an arranged marriage when I was 18. I told my parents I wanted to study, but they forced me to get married,” she says.
The couple never got along. “Our ideologies never matched.”
Jha bore it for a few years, but when both their families and her husband began pressuring her to have a child, she decided to move out.
“I filed for divorce without telling my family and left for Mumbai to stay with a friend,” she says. “I don’t want his money or his house. I just want a fresh start in life.”
Advocate Vyas says:
• Ideologies not matching cannot be grounds for a court to grant a divorce in India. But it is frequently cited as a reason to separate in mutual consent divorces.
• If the husband does not agree to a mutual consent divorce, she will have to prove cruelty in the courtroom. That can be grounds for divorce.
• She can always let the court know that she doesn’t want maintenance. That is her choice.
‘We filed for divorce by mutual consent’
Renuka Karnik, 45, is the VP of a Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company. She and her husband have been living in different rooms in the same house for eight years after realising they were incompatible.
“We didn’t want our issues to impact our son,” she says.
The couple still have shared finances and co-parent their son. “Things were always cordial between us. We knew from the start it was the only way that this arrangement would work.”
After their son went abroad to study in 2019, the couple felt it was the right time to get a divorce.
She says, “We no longer needed to stay together. We filed for divorce by mutual consent in January this year.”
Advocate Vyas says:
• They need to prove that they haven’t had a conjugal relationship for a year.
• A mutual consent divorce can take a year — six months of mandatory counselling and a waiting period of another six months for any chance of reconciliation.
• If the couple has already reached a settlement in terms of their finances, they will have to let the court know about it.
Divorce in India: Document checklist
Here’s how advocate Vyas and financial analyst Ridhi Sharma want you to prepare.
1. If possible, settle through a mutual consent divorce to save time and money.
2. Make a list of your household budget. This should comprise monthly income and expenditure, and include the money you spend on child care and EMIs etc.
This is vital while stating claim to alimony.
3. A wife who is unemployed or who does not earn enough to support herself is entitled to alimony. She can also claim it if she earns but her income does not allow her to support the same standard of living as that of her husband.
4. Streedhan is not a part of any settlement agreement. It belongs to the woman irrespective of the agreement decided upon.
5. A child’s welfare is paramount. So simplify finances by agreeing to a lumpsum amount or staggered payments at different stages of the child’s life. Factor in increasing cost of living.
6. If you do reach an agreement on dividing assets, liabilities and parental responsibilities, document it and let the court know. Also list the remedies in case a person does not honour the agreement.
9. Update all records of financial assets after the settlement. Ensure that you retain the original bills (or photocopies) of assets listed in your name or jointly held.
10. Don’t forget to change your will, if you have one, and the nominee on insurance policies, savings accounts etc if your spouse was listed.