A transparent white dupatta on a battered maroon and white salwar kameez and Rs750 was all I had on me that day. It reflected the oppressed and depressed state of my body and soul, as I was pushed out of my husband's and in-laws' house in the middle of the night. Thoughts of committing suicide filled my mind as I was forced to embark on the interminable journey of divorce initiated by my wealthy, powerful husband. His exact words were, “We’ll get the divorce in six months whether you sign the papers or not”.
As I stood outside the closed doors, I wondered why I had ignored the signs, obvious to everyone including me. The volleys of verbal abuses, the constant bitter fights...
And yet somewhere, there was a sliver of hope. There is nothing romantic about poverty unless you are in the movies. To survive, I sold off my mangalsutra. I got a job paying a measly amount but at least it helped me get a start on recovering my confidence and self-esteem.
And then the endless routine began: to court and back. I still remember my first date in family court, Bandra, Mumbai on the July 4, 2001 — American Independence Day — and perhaps freedom for me too.
Freedom comes at a price. After two-three years in court, the socio-legal pressures of divorce started getting to me. I was sick of unsolicited advice, sexual innuendoes, the snail-like pace of the legal system, and the stigma associated with divorce.
Alll this prompted me to form 360 Degrees Back to Life, India’s first non-judgemental support group that would provide a positive perspective to people and focus on rebuilding their life while they were going through a divorce. The group helps you to navigate the treacherous socio-legal waters of divorce, especially in India where the subject is still a social stigma.
Following this, the journey did seem easier but now and then, I tended to slip into depression and loneliness. I was making a life of my own and had a job that let me travel across the world. I started writing my first book, almost completed my law degree, but each court date was a reminder that I was in a whirlpool and I had to exit now or I would be languishing in court for the rest of my life
A decade of judicial trips trips later, I decided to call time on the divorce proceedings and start living a normal life outside the confines of the four walls of the courts. I wasn’t embittered by my divorce nor was I cynical. I prefer looking at life positively. Today as I publish Ex-Files — India’s first divorce newsmagazine, write my second book, run my counselling group and go to the family court as a divorce lawyer to fight another person’s battle, I find it difficult to believe that I am the same person who stood clasping only Rs750 ten years ago.
When to call it quits in a marriage
Marriage is a beautiful institution when both the partners are compatible and giving. Yet , it wastes no time in crumbling when one of the partner's out of step with the other. Here are some signs that tell you all is not right:
A change for the better: When one half of the couple is more ambitious and the other cannot keep pace with the change, chances are that one will completely overshadow the other. When this happens and there is no recourse for communication and rapprochement, it’s time to call it quits.
Big, fat Indian weddings: These are expensive affairs where the entire family are stakeholders in the marriage and expect couples to stay in it as return on investments. If society and family are the main reasons for sticking it out in a marriage, it’s time to rethink because a reality check will tell the couple that it’s not really the family but two consenting adults who are in a
In it for the children: Having children in a warring relationship is tough. Wanting to protect them as caring parents is the most natural thing in the world. Yet, experts and counsellors will tell you that staying in a marriage for the kids may actually be detrimental to everybody involved. Children have a sixth sense and intuitively know when things aren’t working out. It’s time to take a stock of your relationship and figure out whether the couple is doing anyone any good by staying in a constantly bickering marriage.
Trust: The test of a healthy marriage is that partners have an increased sense of self-esteem rather than the feeling that they are prisoners in a relationship. If you are constantly doubting and cross-checking what your spouse says or does, trust has flown out of the window and sadly, so has your marriage.
When three is a crowd: Partners hire detectives to tail their spouses and when suspicions are confirmed, the information they have received is used as a weapon while continuing the marital relationship. Couples as martyrs don’t exactly paint a pretty picture.
Either work on your marriage, forgive and move on or confront and check out.
Use and abuse: When the woman is in an emotionally and physically abusive marriage, she really needs to drop all other thoughts except ‘Let’s get the hell out of here’. There is no excuse or justification for staying on — be it kids, finances or the mistaken hope that he’ll change with time.
History, research and social scientists have proved that the abuser-abused is a vicious cycle and almost never changes.
Brajesh and Sunita (names changed) were married 20 years ago and are now battling out a bitter, messy divorce in the family court for the past decade. Like all things in life, one must know when to check out of an explosive divorce war and rebuild your life. Here are a few warning signals you should pay heed to when on a sticky divorce wicket:
Court rats: When you are in a court long enough to know which chair you shouldn’t sit on because it might break and the peon who can help you to get a certified copy of the order is on your speed dial, it’s time to rethink your divorce goals. You are in danger of becoming a ‘lifer’ in court and that’s the time you need to check out of the court and start living your life outside it.
Lawyers on EMI: When your lawyer’s bills sound like an EMI plan, it’s time to ask some introspective questions like, “Do I really want to continue paying the lawyer a part of my salary?
Do I have to allocate a part of my household expenses as my lawyer’s fee? Do I downsize my lifestyle to upgrade my lawyer’s?” If the answers to these are a 'yes', it’s time to exit the court battle, cut your losses and move on in life.
Sex life: The body’s sex hormones and desires don’t really care that as per the law, loosely translated, you can’t have sex when your divorce matter is pending litigation. When you start missing the sex and you realise that you have no sexual life because of judicial proceedings, it’s time to walk out of the court.
My lawyer, my soulmate: When your lawyer becomes your best friend and you look forward to long chats with them, step back immediately. After all, the lawyer is only a professional who has his/her own personal life. Also remember that you get a bill at the end of the month.
Court Addiction: Neetu (name changed) dresses up every morning and heads off to the court where she diligently attends case hearings. She isn’t a lawyer but a court addict and gets her daily fix by listening to others’ cases as a way to pass her time till her own next court date comes up. To avoid ending up like her, get de-addicted and start afresh.
Superhero’s Lessons: The court is really not the place to teach someone the lessons of their life nor to settle scores. When you start thinking that you are a superhero and the court is your battlefield to avenge all wrong, it’s time to stop being the caped crusader and move away from the
battleground of divorce.
EGO:This three-letter word may be the biggest jeopardiser ever as it makes you lose sight of what you actually came to court for. Ego propels you to win at any cost and before you know it, you may have lost out on a lot in life.
Vandana Shah is the and author, lawyer and editor of Ex-Files — Indiás first divorce newsmagazine. Her latest book on the divorce game is set to be released under the Shobhaa De imprint for Penguin Random House