It seeks to make irretrievable breakdown of marriage a ground for divorce

The All India Democratic Women's Association has expressed unhappiness over the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 and the amendments made to it, as reintroduced in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, that make irretrievable breakdown of marriage a ground for divorce, giving women the right to marital assets, including the marital home. However, there is no provision for strengthening maintenance laws.

In its letter, the AIDWA has appealed to Rajya Sabha members to prevent the “perpetration of injustice against women by the highest law making body of our country, and to oppose the law in its present form” as there was no move to strengthen maintenance laws.

The amendment seeks to make irretrievable breakdown of marriage a ground for divorce, and proposes that the court may give the wife a share in the property acquired during the subsistence of marriage.

‘Unequal treatment ‘

Unfortunately, whether a share should be given at all and the quantum of the share in marital property is left to be decided by the courts on a case to case basis. “Our experience in the courts has shown that a large number of courts have been very conservative and close-fisted about granting maintenance for wives and children and have awarded dismal sums. These courts have obviously acted with a bias towards women and have treated them unequally. When women approach the courts for maintenance, they are awarded sums that may normally range between 5 and 35 per cent approximately of the man's income, even if there are children to be supported,” the statement said.

Short of requirement

The courts' evaluation of what constitutes adequate maintenance frequently falls far short of what women and children require even to survive in a dignified manner. Thus, allowing the courts to decide on a share in the marital property is no guarantee that the wife will receive her just entitlements, the statement said.

In countries where irretrievable breakdown of marriage has been introduced as a ground for divorce, laws relating to an equitable division of all marital assets also exist. This is because the contribution of a woman in building up the household and in primarily taking care of children is recognised and considered to be as economically valuable as work outside the house. Unless women are treated as equals in a marriage and given the same financial and other security that men have on its breakdown, it would be discriminatory to further liberalise the grounds of divorce.

Equal part in property

The AIDWA demands that the amendments be introduced only after a law has been enacted for giving women equal rights in marital property. This law should allow for equal division of the marital property upon separation and not merely on divorce. A provision should also be made for women and children to get more than half the share if the children are living with their mother. The laws relating to maintenance for women and children must be strengthened to ensure that women/children receive an adequate amount of maintenance.

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