With the latest Supreme Court order, it is time to rejoice for couples seeking a divorce through mutual consent.
India is not a very divorce-friendly country both culturally and legally. The divorce rate in India is very low – about 13 in 1,000 marriages, against 500 in 1,000 marriages in the UK. Every year 7,500 cases of divorce are filed in Mumbai, 9,000 in Delhi and 3,000 in Bangalore.
However, the number of divorce cases pending in India are strikingly high at about 55,000.
The procedure of divorce is complex in our country and it can take over a year to a decade, depending upon the nature of the conflict between the estranged couple, the intensity of disagreements between the parties and the discretion of the judges.
Divorce cases are a point of distress owing to the cultural and legal duress. People tend to believe that surviving a marriage is easier and better than facing the dreadful hallways of family courts.
Considering this grim situation and looking to speed up divorce proceedings, the Supreme Court has recently ordered the minimum cooling-off period of six months for granting a decree of divorce be waived by a trial court if there is no scope of cohabitation between the hostile couple.
According to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, if both the parties agree, they can file for a mutual divorce under section 13-B which requires that the couple should be living separately for at least a year. A statutory cooling period of six months is provided between the first and last motion for seeking divorce by mutual consent to explore the possibility of settlement and co-habitation.
This “cooling off” period of six months is given to ensure that the parties are not making any hasty decisions.
Ironically, there is nothing “hasty” when it comes to Indian courts. The court also observed that though every effort should be made to save a marriage and if there are no chances of a reunion the court should not be powerless in enabling the parties to have a better option.
The bench comprising of Justice A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit said, “The period mentioned in section 13B(2) is not mandatory but discretionary.”
When the court is assured that there are no chances of staying together and it is assured that the parties will split, the court can waive off the six-month requirement.
In the present matter, the plea was filed by an estranged couple seeking a six-month waiver on the grounds that they had been living separately for the past eight years and there was no possibility of reunion.
With this new landmark ruling, one can now apply to get a waiver on this cooling period. This implies that if the couple has mutually decided to dissolve their marriage, they can request the court to expedite the process and not wait for another six months.
Prior to this judgment, only the Supreme Court had the authority to waive this period off.
This is, however, only one way to speed up the divorce proceedings. The court should also look into other issues like, the seemingly-endless system of adjournments. In a lot of matters, the parties or their lawyers maliciously aim at dragging the case.
Ideally, in matters where the parties have mutually agreed that there is no going back, the proceedings should be completed within a week.