It is seen as a landmark case. After 40 years as man and wife, a Parsi couple is fighting a bitter divorce battle. Roshan Cooper, all of 74, has dragged her 80-year-old husband Dadi Eruchshaw to the Parsi matrimonial court, saying she “can no longer put up with the physical and mental harassment”. The Bombay High Court, which is hearing the case has asked Roshan and Dadi to settle their dispute amicably.
Dadi’s lawyer, Vivek N Kantawala, claims this is the first time in legal history that a couple has sought to get divorced after four decades of marriage. Is this a sign of great social change underway? Is the social churn causing us to value marriage much less than before? Are Indians becoming more demanding about marital partnerships? And is the change affecting our senior citizens too —not just young Indians? Could the 60s and 70s be the new 30s and 40s, when it comes to changing mores?
Yes, in part, says Mumbai divorce lawyer Siddharth Soni. He says that Indians are becoming more individualist and aware, which is prompting many more couples to strike a blow for freedom from the torture of a failing marriage. Add to that the inherent but newly expressed desire of many more Indians — of all ages — to start afresh because they remain economically active well past middle-age and the phenomenon of divorcing senior citizens suddenly starts to make more sense. Soni says that older Indians may actually be thinking about themselves and what they want for the first time in their lives. “When one is past one’s prime, he or she has fewer strings — the children are settled and independent and one is through with financial liabilities. So it may be the right time to think about oneself,” he says.
But Flavia Agnes, Mumbai lawyer and women’s rights activist, says there is nothing new about senior citizens looking to divorce. “The first such case I got was 10 years back when a 65-year-old woman sought separation from her husband on account of cruelty and violence. She had been putting up with it all her life for the sake of her children and now that they were settled, she wanted an end to her agony,” she says.
Lawyers agree that the impetus for senior citizens to divorce is often the departure of their children. Offspring are often the biggest glue in a marriage and the empty-nest syndrome can cruelly expose the differences between a couple.
That does not seem to have been the case with Roshan and Dadi. What could possibly lead a couple to opt to end years of living together? After all, they put up with each other for years? Soni says one or both partners may “already have an ‘arrangement’ outside marriage, but it could also be incompatibility or even indifference towards each other".
Agnes recalls a very old couple who finally sought divorce by mutual consent after years of “living separately”. She says the wife had always wanted legal separation but the husband took ages to agree. “Finally, he relented,” she says.
Though women generally file for divorce citing physical violence, men do so for reasons to do with mental harassment or desertion. Courts generally discourage divorce if the couple is very old and not financially independent. Agnes cites the case of a couple whose petition for divorce was not granted by court because they were too old. It prompted the desperate wife to agree to pay her husband’s house rent if the court would only agree to judicial separation.
Supreme Court lawyer Praveen Agarwal agrees that more senior citizens are divorcing than ever before. He says he has handled three cases in Delhi in just the past couple of months. But he adds that a couple on the wrong side of their 60s may find it hard to secure a clean decree of divorce. “If it is by mutual consent, it is simple. If it is contested, it gets prolonged.”
Delhi clinical psychologist Ranjana Jha says that divorcing senior citizens need to be clear about issues such as health insurance and retirement because all the available research indicates divorced parents are less likely to be cared for by their children.
Original article here.