It is generally assumed that once a warring couple climb the stairs of the courthouse they are on a direct trajectory to divorce. But guess what, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, divorce proceedings can turn on their head and open the path for reconciliation.
A great example of a focus on reconciliation is the Bandra Family Court. Over a period ranging from a few months to a year they successfully counselled more than 100 couples and made them realise the benefits of living together again. The general air of festivity that electrified an open air gathering of couples, judges, lawyers and curious onlookers would have had you believe that you were at a wedding and not in a court where the couples had come to perform the final rites of their marriage.
There is a misconception that when you file for divorce there is no going back legally and not enough has been done by lawyers, the court and even counsellors to spread the right kind of awareness about the options available to couples.
"Withdrawing a petition for divorce is one of the easiest things to do, and the law does all it can to encourage couples to reconcile."
Fact: Withdrawing a petition for divorce is one of the easiest things to do, and the law does all it can to encourage couples to reconcile.
An interesting case that I was involved in entailed a divorce petition filed by Bimal*. He had been married to his wife, Manjari, for 10 years and they had two children together, a boy and a girl. Bimal wanted a divorce because he had ambitions to move abroad to expand his business. His wife was shocked. But even though she was born and brought up in a small village in Gujarat before moving to Mumbai after marriage, her humble background did not deter her from fighting for her marriage and taking on the system.
She filed for restitution of conjugal rights in the family court, and when Bimal tried to throw her out of the house she filed for claiming the house under the Domestic Violence Act 2005. When Bimal decide not to pay for the children's school fees, she appealed against the order of the family court and moved the high court.
When all this was going on she also decided to open up a small food business from home, supplying boxed meals to office-goers and making light snacks that could be easily packaged and sold. She continued to fight her case to save her marriage and also secure her children's future. I really admired Manjari's fortitude and resilience. She was never intimidated by Bimal's considerable wealth (he was a diamond merchant) and instead of banking on pity and hand-outs from him and others, she made herself financially independent even if her means were far more modest than Bimal's.
Finally, after three years of battling it out in various courts, before the final signing of the papers in the family court the husband and wife decided to only meet each other in court for two days without the children or any other family members. When they spent time with each other they both decided to live together as husband and wife. The petition for divorce (among others) was withdrawn and they decided to make a fresh start.
I can't explain the joy that even we as lawyers felt that Manjari had fought to save her marriage rather than taking the route of divorce.
Withdrawing a divorce petition
It is far easier than it seems, with a simple procedure based on various sections in the Code of Civil Procedure and the Marriage Acts prevalent in India.
First you make an application to withdraw the case in the family court. A counsellor meets with the couple to reconfirm their decision in person. This is done to protect them and also to reaffirm that they are taking the decision of their own free will and there is no fraud or collusion involved. The counsellor's report is then sent to the judge who can pass his or her judgement/decree on the same day.
"A number of times interference by biased relatives -- and what I call a sociological phenomenon of 'too many people in the marriage' -- causes the breakdown of a marriage."
In fact, judges and counsellors give priority to cases in which divorce petitions are withdrawn. Even if you don't have a date in court you or your lawyer can request for the matter to be taken on board.
After all even from the judge's point of view the lesser the litigation the better it is for all involved. The court's burden is also reduced.
How do you know if your marriage is worth saving?
At the end of the day every marriage has its ups and downs, and if one can identify the source of friction it is possible to work on fixing it and saving yourself the burden of divorce. Marriage is not to be taken lightly or in the hope that there might be a better deal elsewhere. One has to take into consideration what we call the normal wear tear of marriage - the arguments and adjustments that even any friendship has to withstand. We tend to forget that marriage is a meeting of two minds and is a partnership. We have to work within the parameters of the marriage to make it work successfully. A number of times interference by biased relatives -- and what I call a sociological phenomenon of "too many people in the marriage" -- causes the breakdown of a marriage. Basically, this means that the marriage ceases to be between the couple; the so-called well-wishers start dictating what makes a good marriage and they project their ambitions and dreams on your relationship. How can they decide what works for your marriage?
My support group, 360degreesbacktolife, also counsels people to look at divorce as a final step when there is no hope left in a marriage. In fact, a number of times I have counselled my clients and I am happy that they decided to give their marriage another shot. Some of my clients jokingly tell me that I lose business as a lawyer by advising them not to file for divorce. But I have said time and again, both in press interviews and public forums, that no one gets married to get divorced and that divorce is not the first choice but the last one.
I recommend going to a trained marriage counsellor and not biased relatives who advise you based on their own personal opinions or maybe even their grudges (hidden or obvious) against you. And they may, in fact, be a hindrance to the reconciliation process. A marriage counsellor's job is to advise you without any personal or vested interest. And if the marriage is saved, one does not have to deal with the added burden of the gossiping amongst relatives.
Of course if the issues causing the breakdown of the marriage are extremely serious, such as abuse, adultery and other non-negotiables, then you're probably better off walking out. But if you want to end a marriage just because you think there is some romantic paradise awaiting you or because of what others have been feeding into your ears, try to give it another shot
Finally, you both have to be the judge about what works in the marriage and whether you chose to divorce or un-divorce.
*All names are fictitious