High-profile Bollywood divorces are leading to an increasing number of young Indian couples breaking with tradition and seeking escape from unhappy marriages.
Marriage break-ups among stars such as film-maker Aditya Chopra and his celebrity wife Payal Khanna, superstars Saif Ali Khan and wife Amrita Singh and Aamir Khan and wife Reena have made it significantly more acceptable in Indian society, where previous generations may have considered marriage to be sacred.
However there are calls to speed up the process in Indian courts and help dispel the social stigma that is still attached with divorce in Indian communities in the UK, according to Andrew Woolley with leading family law specialist Woolley & Co.
“It does seem that getting divorced in Indian culture is much more acceptable than it has ever been. This is a reflection of the number of divorces we are now seeing in Bollywood and among other high-profile Indian figures, like award-winning Bollywood actress and director Nandita Das who filed for divorce just last month,” said Andrew.
“But we still have a long way to go. It is a common knowledge though that divorce proceedings in Indian courts can potentially drag on for years, especially if there are disputes about financial matters or if they are contested.
“However, being married in India does not necessarily mean one must divorce in India. If a person or their partner is either habitually resident or domiciled in the UK, they can commence divorce proceedings in the UK. Similarly, if a couple were married in the UK and then moved to India, they can still commence divorce proceedings if they meet certain criteria.
“Making applications for financial settlements and child support, including providing a roof for the children, are more likely to succeed in the UK, whereas in India divorce and ancillary proceedings are not governed by one universal law.”
In India Hindus including Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, Christians by the Indian Divorce Act 1869, Parsis by the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936 and Muslims by the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939. Civil Marriages and inter-community marriages and divorces are governed by the Special Marriage Act 1956.
The Special Marriage Act was introduced for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party. It allows for a decree of divorce on the basis of one year separation by consent.
Though most marriages now are registered under the Act, others may not be and will have to go through the procedure to be registered before they can divorce using those grounds set out in the Act. These include adultery, three years' desertion, cruelty or imprisonment of one of the parties.
“Although most Bollywood stars try to keep their private life out of the public arena and petition for a divorce on the basis of one year separation by mutual consent, this is not always possible for the majority of the people seeking a divorce in India. These individuals unfortunately are made to feel they have to justify the divorce and, as such, turn to the more mainstream fault-based reasons. Often this leads to more hostile, lengthy and expensive court proceedings,” added Andrew.
“In the UK however, an option is given whereby a divorce can be obtained by way of mutual consent if the parties have been separated for two years or more and if separated more than five years can do so without the consent of the other party. Of course, the grounds of adultery, desertion and unreasonable behaviour still exist, but timetables are put in place by the court to ensure the proceedings are conducted in a timely manner.”
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