Family court reunites couples at war

Written By Unknown on Senin, 15 April 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: The family court in Bandra recently held a first of its kind group reconciliation meeting. Eight couples walked in separately but walked out hand in hand.

On April 6, the fifth floor waiting area outside Judge Swati Chavan's courtroom lost its grim ambience. It sported a festive air, as if in anticipation of things to come. Judge Chavan, said a lawyer, had organized a group reconciliation meet. The aim was to get quarrelling couples back together.

For five years a young man hadn't allowed his wife to stay in the matrimonial house. He wanted her out and their case had landed in the family court where it languished since 2008. But last week, their long wait seemed worth it. They "realised" their dispute was not worth fighting over, and were reunited as a couple. They exchanged flowers and smiles. Children were present and they too presented flowers to their parents. A few tears were shed, but they were of joy as the long drought of harmony ended for some. The family court had quietly played the enabler's role.

"Everyone thinks that a family court is only meant to grant divorce , but the object of the Family Courts Act is to settle marital disputes even through conciliation," advocate Chitra Phadke said. Few know that the statute in its preamble clearly states that it is "an Act to provide for the establishment of family courts with a view to promote conciliation in, and secure speedy settlement of, disputes relating to marriage and family affairs," Phadke said. "The group reconciliation was proof of the efforts taken by the Mumbai family court in the successful implementation of the social legislation."

The idea of saving marriages cropped up about two months ago. The judge who presides in court room No. 5 identified about ten couples whose issues "seemed minor" and "resolvable". They were of all categories. Some had come to court with bitter disputes ranging from pleas for maintenance to divorce by mutual consent as well as cruelty claims, property fights and incompatibility issues.

Lawyers play big role in reuniting couples

Of the ten couples, eight agreed to come and they included some who were married for over a decade and a few for about a year. The family court's counsellors and lawyers who appeared in the matter played a major role too. They counselled the couples thoroughly and continuously. One couple, both Christians, was married for 10 years before the partners filed for divorce by mutual consent last year. He is 41 and she 35. Their differences were not very big and all they needed was "proper counselling", the judge observed. They agreed and dropped their case that was headed to splitsville.

In another, it was a case of sweet love gone sour. "Parental interference had left them estranged," said a lawyer. The couple was still young in their mid-20 s with a child. One husband got quite emotional at the gathering, "My parents did not help me get back with my wife and child but the family court did." A couple married for two years with a one-yearold child wanted a divorce. The 31-year-old husband said his 25-year-old wife was "cruel, not keeping him happy". She threatened to commit suicide. The judge explained that both should act responsibly. That seemed to do the trick to get them back together. One man, who ran a butcher shop in south Mumbai, wanted his wife to quit working. The rift slaughtered their marital happiness. After the family court's intervention, she kept her job and her marriage intact.

Advocate Nilofer Akhtar, a veteran lawyer at the family court, said, "The group reconciliation was a great concept and should be done on a regular basis. As lawyers, we too try to mediate between warring couples for a solution, either for an amicable split or even a reunion to protect the interests of the children."

Sajan Oomen, president of the Family Court Bar Association, also supported the initiative. "The idea behind the move was to show that the family court can also get people, who are so inclined, to stay united," a lawyer said.

The other aim of the judge was to motivate other sparring couples to explore a peaceful settlement. It worked, as two estranged couples who watched from the fringes, wanted in. They will now be counselled.

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