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The Hide And Seek Of Divorce

What makes Indian men so stingy with their assets?

26/02/2017 6:44 PM IST | Updated 14/03/2017 4:11 PM IST
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Recently, a UK court ordered an NRI husband to pay his ex-wife a monthly maintenance from pension annuities. This decision may have gladdened the hearts of NRI wives and also lifted the spirits of Indian women going through a divorce. Now while all divorces are messy, one in which the husband refuses to pay maintenance by hiding his assets, reaches the level of a nuclear war. Fortunately, for most divorces where the husband controls the purse strings and refuses to loosen them for his soon to be ex, the judicial system does step in to help out the wife, often with ground-breaking judgments.

If a woman's reward is doing the job itself the question of asking for money in a marriage—or divorce—does not arise...

So, what is it about divorce that makes the men so mean-minded towards a wife who gave so many years to him and the marriage? In an interesting case that I was handling Kia and Harsh* were married for 25 years and had a 20-year-old son. Both were flight pursers with Air India and after their son was born Kia stopped working, which was a mutual decision. However, when Harsh filed for divorce after 20 years of marriage he absolutely refused to pay Kia any money for her maintenance .In fact, in various conversations that he had with his wife he maintained that she had done nothing throughout the marriage to deserve any of his "hard-earned money." According to him all she did was sit at home and look after the child.

What was interesting about these conversations was that he actually believed all he said was true. It was not make believe or pretence. The entire thought process in our patriarchal society in India revolves around the idea that it is women's bounden duty to look after all the needs of everyone around them—husband, children, family, extended family and anyone else who may need pleasing. The reward for performing this duty is... more sacrifices! If she dares ask for any form of reward, she is immediately cast as selfish and as not befitting the universal ideal of "woman". So if your reward is doing the job itself the question of asking for money in a marriage does not arise and heaven help you if you dare ask for maintenance in a divorce.

This also explains why the husband has no qualms about hiding his assets from his wife. He transfers so many assets in his various relatives' names or hides them in shell companies that you would probably need FBI-like skills to track it all down.

Perhaps if husbands stopped playing the financial "hide" the wives would stop playing the "seek" and divorces would not assume World War 3 status.

What baffles me each time is that the narratives don't change. Kia and Harsh could be any one of countless other couples in India—the intrinsic thought process remains more or less the same.

Are things changing? Sure. But the changes are frustratingly slow and at times one just gives up fighting a daily battle. But the brave amongst us wake up the next day and trudge in to the family court to make the changes count.

In Kia's case, much to the husband's indignation, we got an interim maintenance in her favour, and as part of the final alimony the husband had to give her a flat in Mumbai. Needless to say Harsh was furious but Kia got justice and the court's decision reflects the changes in our mindset.

Perhaps if husbands stopped playing the financial "hide" the wives would stop playing the "seek" and divorces would not assume World War 3 status.

*All names changed.

Mythology Meets Digital Age

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