Divorce during Covid: A Checklist for Women

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The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred divorce petitions in India, triggering a heated debate on how patriarchy, social systems and attitudes choke the vulnerable. Here’s a seemingly functional guide for those who want to say enough is enough.

The Covid-induced new world order has pushed up divorce rates across the world during the past six months. For instance, the United States recorded a 34% spike in the number of people looking for annulment of marriage during this March-June vis-à-vis the year-ago period. These four months were when the novel coronavirus imposed restrictions on people’s movements and left many homebound for periods longer than usual.

India is no exception.

The lockdown triggered a similar trend in parts of India as well. More so among the middle/upper classes who live in cities.

For instance, within ten weeks of a ‘shut existence’, Mumbai reported a nearly three-fold increase in cases pertaining to divorce. From an average of 1,280 cases in a month, their numbers went up to it 3,480 in early June this year.

Second, in the spot, city-wise in the country was Delhi.

Simultaneously, urban centres in India clocked a rise in legal cases related to retrenchment and pay slash. The two developments aren’t unrelated. 

What are the key reasons behind the spike in divorce cases during Covid? N13 spoke to experts and read reliable reports to come to certain conclusions (This article mainly focusses on couples who do not have children) 

Reasons for the spurt

The coronavirus has proven to be not just a threat to life. The pandemic has altered intra-family relations, more so spousal. Together, these have strained the ties between the husband and wife

* Domestic abuse

In America, as early as in March this year, the National Domestic Violence Hotline got an increasing number of calls, saying their abusers are further isolating them from friends and family by using Covid-19 as an excuse. A surge in such reports led the organization to develop new strategies that can ensure support to the victims under lockdown. 

* Job loss

The economy, especially the services sector, registered a shrinkage in activity with the clamp of the lockdown in March. It did ease by October following a phased unlock, but demand went on to take the graph of contraction. This led firms to cut more jobs. The resultant slump in family income has made domestic relations unpleasant and even volatile.

* Bereavement woes

Covid death toll in India crossed 1.2 lakh in India this week. For ones near and dear to the deceased, life has become increasingly difficult. The emotional strain is showing its bearing on marital lives as well. Spouses become the easiest targets.

* Prolonged togetherness

As work-from-home has become increasingly the norm, couples spend more time together than in pre-Covid times. Resultantly, there is less tolerance and, hence, the propensity of (otherwise) minor irritants to snowball into big issues. Dormant characteristics find vocal exposure during this period.

Safeguard tips

India doesn’t follow a uniform law for divorce; the grounds and procedures are dependent on personal laws based on the religions of the parties. They exist as Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, Indian Divorce Act, 1869 (for Christians) and Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, among others, besides the provisions of Special Marriages Act, 1954 for inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. The grounds include adultery, cruelty, desertion, insanity and presumed death.

What can be done?

Here are steps that can check women from losing finances in the event of a divorce.

* A Muslim wife is entitled to maintenance till the iddat period, while the mehr (dower) will be the figure agreed to at the time of marriage. For a Christian divorcee, the husband is liable to pay maintenance until the woman’s lifetime. In the case of Parsis, the court can award a maximum of one-fifth of the husband’s net income for the wife’s lifetime

Age-old perceptions

India’s divorce rates in 2017 stand at less than 1% (vis-à-vis 50% in the US), figuring at the bottom of the list of countries in the matter. The reasons for the low percentage include social values (‘Husband is god’, ‘Marital bond is sacred’, ‘We must live together for our children’), patriarchy (where women lead an inherently subdued life), low female workforce participation (which makes women financially dependent), kangaroo courts (panchayats as mediators) and social mores (taboo attached to divorce).

Also read: Considering a Coronavirus Divorce? You’re in Good Company 

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