'Eighty percent women don’t ask for divorce as they have nowhere to go'
At present the maintenance and divorce laws are extremely weak when it comes to protecting women.
New Delhi: The Planning Commission's working group on Women's Agency and Empowerment has proposed Right to Marital Property Act. The proposed right aims to give separated/ divorced women equal share in the property. The onus of proving husband’s income, as per the proposal, lies on the husband rather than on the wife as it happens in the current scheme of things. Further, the right applies to all the communities. Senior advocate Kirti Singh was part of the team which drafted the right. Singh talks to Firstpost about the need of such legislation and the issues of divorced and separated women.
What is the objective of the right to marital property?
There are two major proposals in this right. One, it gives equal right to women in marital property. This includes movable and immovable property acquired by both the spouses during the subsistence of marriage. The proposal recognises that a woman has an equal share in these assets whether she is contributing to the family, financially or not.
The second proposal is to strengthen the Maintenance Act. On divorce or separation, woman needs maintenance depending on what she is earning, the earning of the husband, children and the kind of life they have been living. At present, if a separated woman suffers from lack of capacity to earn. She is never at the same position as her husband is. She needs financial support for herself and the children.
The proposed law also says that the onus of verifying the husband’s income should be on the husband and not on the wife.
What about poor families or households in which there are not many assets or property to divide?
For families living below the poverty line, the state should ensure that social security laws exist by which such women are compensated. The state should do the recovery on behalf of separated women. Else, there should be a fund from which such women get monetary assistance.
What difference will this law make to the current scheme of things?
Currently, the rights of divorced and separated women are limited. This is primarily because of two causes -- women have no place to go once they are separated/ divorced and the maintenance laws are extremely weak.
We practice separation of property regime. This means that if the property is in the name of the woman it will belong to her, otherwise it will not. When they get separated they hardly have anything in their name.
How serious is the problem?
I contributed to a study on the condition of divorced/ separated women for the Economic Research Foundation. Delhi. The study reflects the dismal economic condition of divorced women. We found that in more than 80 per cent of the cases, women don’t ask for divorce as there will be a complete plunge in their lifestyle. Those who get divorced, live with their mothers or siblings. They hardly become independent.
What is the scenario in other countries?
In other countries the contributions of a housewife are considered. Whether a woman is financially contributing or not, the law allots her at least half of the assets which were bought by the couple during marriage. In Europe, there is communion of property law in which the wife becomes a co-owner right from the beginning of the marriage.
Other countries have laws which say that though the woman is a co-owner, separation becomes a trigger. During separation, the value of assets is ascertained and it is equally divided between the two.
If the proposal becomes legislation, will it supersede laws governing various communities such as the Muslim personal law or Hindu Marriage Act?
All these laws are silent on this issue. So, there is no question of any clash or overlap.
What happens next in terms of implementation?
We have made this proposal for the 12th five year plan. We expect the Planning Commission to forward the same to the government so that it becomes a law.
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