At one time, India used to have one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. Being a society largely based on a traditional value system, couples were both legally and socially dissuaded from seeking a divorce. However, socio-economic changes complemented by legal reforms in the last half a century, have enabled partners, especially women, to opt out of unequal and abusive marriages.
The wave of globalization in the nineties ushered in further changes in the Indian social institutions, especially in urban areas. Couples living and working in cities and metros, were exposed to more economic and relationship options, which prompted them to break out of unsatisfactory or unequal marriages. However, the divorce procedure in India continues to be one of the most protracted in the world, especially in cases where either party contests the divorce. Following, is a brief guide to the procedure of filing a divorce, as well as associated matters like child custody, alimony demands and divorcing a non-resident Indian.
Divorce by Mutual Consent
Seeking a divorce in India is a long-drawn out legal affair, where the period of prosecution takes a minimum of six months. However, the time and money required to obtain a divorce can be considerably shortened if the couple seeks divorce by mutual consent. In this case, estranged spouses can mutually agree to a settlement and file for a “no-fault divorce” under Section 13B of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955. All marriages which have been solemnized before or after the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act 1976, are entitled to make use of the provision of divorce by mutual consent. However, for filing for a divorce on this ground, it is necessary for the husband and wife to have lived separately for at least a year.
Procedure for Filing for Divorce
The procedure for seeking a divorce by mutual consent, is initiated by filing a petition, supported by affidavits from both partners, in the district court. Known as the First Motion Petition for Mutual Consent Divorce, this should contain a joint statement by both partners, that due to their irreconciliable differences, they can no longer stay together and should be granted a divorce by the court. After six months, the Second Motion Petition for Mutual Consent Divorce should be filed by the couple and they are required reappear in the court. A gap of six months is given between the two motions, so as to offer the estranged couple adequate time to reconsider their decision of dissolving their marriage. After hearings from the husband and wife, if the judge is satisfied that all the necessary grounds and requirements for the divorce have been met, the couple is granted a mutual divorce decree. Some of the important issues on which the couple should have agreed, in their petition for divorce by mutual consent, are custody of child, alimony to wife, return of dowry items or “streedhan” and litigation expenses.
However, if either party withdraws the divorce petition within 18 months of the filing of the First Motion Petition, the court will initiate an enquiry. And if the concerned party continues to refuse consent to the divorce petition, the court will no longer have the right to grant a divorce decree. But if the divorce petition is not withdrawn within the stipulated 18 months, the court will pass a divorce decree on the basis of mutual consent between both parties.
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