This arm of the legal profession focuses on matrimonial conflicts and ensuring the rights of the individuals involved, including the children. In India, marriage and divorce are viewed as per community and Acts thereof e.g. Hindu Marriage Act, Muslim Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act etc. Matrimonial conflicts are very sensitive issues and relate very closely to the fabric of the society. Complexity is part of every case and resolution can take up to six months in the least. Even divorces through mutual consent require partners to have lived separately for a year. Alimony and child custody add further complexity.
What do they do?
In US and Sweden more than half of all marriages end in divorce. The institution of marriage seems to be doing much better in India. With Sri Lanka (at 1.5%), we (at 1.1%) share one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. But we are also notorious for marital rape, dowry deaths, domestic violence (against either spouse) and other phenomena that would qualify as failures of the very institution we revere. This contradiction paints a poignant picture of the long-suffering spouse and marriages breeding dysfunctional families, those little units that make up society and contribute to the collective mental state of the nation.
However, for better or for worse, the tide has been turning in the last few years (a 70% jump just in 2010, according to one survey). Various factors — increased economic independence, better awareness of one’s rights, gender-role reversal, urbanisation, moral degradation, and modern stresses — are responsible for this.
Up close, the realities become grimmer. In one case, “the husband used to regularly beat up the wife and she was finally thrown out of the matrimonial home with her three children and even the basic maintenance claim was bitterly contested by the husband. He told the court that he was ready to go to jail than pay maintenance for his wife and children,” says Aishwarya Bhati, advocate-on-record, Supreme Court of India.
So while in some cases divorce is in the best interests of all parties, the most fulfilling part for lawyers handling such cases is amicable resolution of the conflict. “A matrimonial lawyer plays a very important role in conflict resolution, by counselling the parties and making them aware of their legal rights and responsibilities. Many a time the parties reconcile, which helps in saving a family. Sometimes, the parties amicably separate, cutting out the bitter and personal fight,” adds Bhati.
So, from the wide choice available to lawyers, why does one take up bitter matrimonial cases? The simple answer is one does not. Lawyers maintain that one still goes by the merit of the case before taking it on.
“It is one’s experience and exposure in particular kind of matters over a period of time which make one feel more drawn towards a field. Since in the initial years of my profession, I got a few briefs pertaining to matrimonial disputes frequently, I got sufficient exposure as a result of which, my interest in matrimonial law grew,” says Rajat Aneja, advocate and head of litigation, Aneja & Aneja, a Delhi-based law firm.
With the commitment to this arm of the legal profession come responsibilities that go beyond the simple delivery of justice. One has to consider there are relationships and futures to be considered. “Reconciliation and mediation is always the foremost priority in matrimonial conflicts since (in) such litigation in most cases… none of the parties can win at the expense of other,” says Bhati.
Aneja provides another perspective: “Dealing with matrimonial issues is a challenging task as the parties divulge faults of their spouse — providing the real scenario. We, as lawyers, should possess the skill to scan the facts provided.
“For instance, in a matter assigned to me, the wife wanted to get rid of her husband at any cost notwithstanding the fact that she had two children who were about 10 years and 8 years, respectively. Both the children loved both their parents. However, after extensive discussion with my client, I came to the conclusion that I would be failing in my duty if I did not persuade my client to reconcile the issues, which were in fact very petty in the context of the family and the welfare of their two children.”
The case went to court, which assigned it to the Mediation Cell. With Aneja the counsel, the dispute was settled and four lives were given another chance at happiness, without the scar of a split family.
. Zeal to guard client’s rights within the law
. Powers of persuasion and reasoning
How do I get there?
After Class 12, one can appear for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Currently, 13 national law universities of India recognise the CLAT. Of late, Amity Law School (Noida), National Law School (Bangalore) and Symbiosis (Pune) have started offering an integrated five-year LLB programme. One can go on to do one’s master’s, LLM, as well.