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Commitment, not love, keeps a marriage ticking
Celebrity divorce lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh, who has written a new handbook on divorce, on the changing contours of the Indian marriage.
She's handled some of the most high-profile divorce cases in the country - Aditya Chopra, Aamir Khan, Arun Nayar and Adnan Sami to name just a few. And now the 54-year-old Mrunalini Deshmukh - known to be tough, sensitive and extremely discreet - has crystallised her courtroom experiences in an exhaustive but easy-to-understand divorce guide called 'Breaking Up'. Authored in collaboration with her junior Fazaa Shroff-Garg, 'Breaking Up' lists Indian marriage and divorce laws, the various grounds on which one can file a divorce case, how to fight for child custody, property and the rest of the painful nitty-gritty that constitutes the break-up of a marriage. Deshmukh illustrates each point with actual cases without revealing the real names - however, if you're even slightly familiar with tinseltown gossip, it's easy to guess who she's talking about. TOI-Crest spoke to the divorce lawyer about her work and the changing contours of marriage in India. Excerpts from the interview.
Why a book on divorce?
After having dealt with emotionally and socially sensitive issues in my career as a matrimonial lawyer, I realised there were a lot of myths and a lack of clarity in the minds of people with regard to divorce. Some were guided by their friends and families while others went ahead with their limited exposure comprising internet information and published articles on the subject. I have made an attempt to put the issues related to divorce in a lucid form so that any layperson can understand them.
You are privy to the secrets of many public figures. How do you manage to keep so much under wraps, especially in the presence of a prying media?
Celebrities and public figures look for divorce lawyers who, besides possessing professional expertise, are also adept at maintaining utmost confidentiality about their private lives. In my experience, I have seen that they need to be assured that the discussions and documentations are purely and exclusively between them and me. However, as I mentioned in my book, I caution them that once the divorce document is filed in court, I no longer have control over it and it would be difficult thereafter to keep it under wraps. I also believe that giving clients a realistic picture helps to build confidence than promising the impossible.
You mention in the book that you counsel your clients before starting divorce proceedings. How much of a game-changer does it turn out to be?
If, during the discussions, I sense that the issues in a marriage are not so harsh, then I do recommend that the spouses seek professional help as the first step. If the counsellor is not able to help them resolve their issues, then I advise them on how to proceed legally. To answer your question, yes, maybe in a small but significant way it does become a game-changer.
You've cited a humorous saying in your book that goes: "If men behaved after marriage the way they did before it, half the divorces wouldn't take place, and if women behaved before marriage the way they did after it, half the marriages wouldn't take place. "What does marriage offer the contemporary urban Indian?
In my experience over the past 15 to 17 years, I have seen that the urban contemporary Indian views marriage as an institution which is still not redundant. While I have seen a rise in the number of love marriages, where the spouses are to a large extent financially independent and look for mutual trust, respect, companionship and fidelity, there's also a gnawing lack of patience and initiative to adjust to situations.
Most of the case studies mentioned in the book highlight the plight of women in marriage. Do you think that today women are much stronger and
smarter than they were 20 to 30 years ago?
I find the women that I come across as my clients exceedingly independent and possessing of complete clarity about what they want from life and the extent to which they are willing to make adjustments and compromises in a marital relationship. They are also aware of their legal rights. However, a substantial percentage of women, in the absence of financial and emotional support, are submissive and willing to take a little bit of injustice. At times they are compelled to be submissive for the sake of their children. Thankfully, laws are now empowering them. Bills like the right to equitable and proportionate distribution of assets are giving them financial muscle.
Do you think that people who marry very young, in the first flush of romance and passion, especially in the glamour industry, are more prone to break-ups ?
I don't think this is true. I believe human beings are more or less the same whether in the glamour industry or outside it, and the factors mentioned above need not necessarily lead to a break-up.
Is there any one case that stands out in your memory because of the dignity with which the couple called it quits?
I would say that almost all my celebrity clients have made it a point to settle their issues with grace and dignity. Obviously, the main concern for them is the media publicity, and to avoid that they make every attempt to make the proceedings amicable. However, I am dealing with a couple of cases where the involved parties are not exactly dignified. The lesson to be learnt here is that all problems need not be dealt with in an aggressive manner - it's easier to find solutions to problems that are handled with maturity, dignity and with a sense of responsibility.
Which has been the most difficult case of your career so far and why?
I've mentioned this case in my book. It's been the longest case of my career, one where the petition was pending in the trial court for 13 years. The marriage lasted only four years while the divorce proceedings went on for thrice the time. Unnecessary adjournments, transfer, retirement and even the death of a judge lead to the delays just as much as a difficult spouse. In the end the court dismissed my client's divorce petition as the court was not convinced that any cruelty was inflicted upon my client. Now, the appeal is pending in a higher court.
What makes a marriage work?
Usually, it is believed that love is the edifice of a marital relationship but I'd say it is commitment, a sense of duty and responsibility and a willingness to make your relationship work that collectively keep a marriage ticking.
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