Marriages may still be made in heaven but they now come with a shorter shelf life. How else does one explain the fact that for every five weddings registered in Mumbai and Thane, Maharashtra, since 2002, the family courts have received two applications for divorce?
According to the family courts, between January 2002 and October 2007, 104,287 marriages were registered in Mumbai and Thane. In the same period, the courts in these two districts received 44,922 applications for divorce. In 2007, Mumbai and Thane registered 17,221 marriages between January and October. However, 7,813 applications were received for divorce in the same period.
"The numbers are alarming but this is the way things are. These are hasty marriages and equally impulsive divorces. This is the era of a new trend in family relationships," explains Dr Harish Shetty, a renowned Mumbai-based social psychiatrist and marriage counsellor.
Stress at work, financial security and low levels of tolerance are just some of the causes of divorce within the first three years of marriage.
"It definitely is not an aping-the-West trend," explains Jai Vaidya, a lawyer who practices at the Mumbai High Court. Vaidya has been handling family and marital cases for over a decade.
In Vaidya's opinion the nuclear family mode and constraints of time play havoc with relationships. Earlier, joint families acted as buffer for newly-married couples and their misunderstandings. Members of the large families helped them to get over the initial hiccups. The nuclear families are devoid of such support structures.
In Mumbai, a majority spend a minimum of two to four hours each day commuting to office and back. "Where does one have the time or the will to talk after a tiring day?" enquires Vaidya.
Then, with more than 70 per cent of working wives still expected to tackle domestic and child duties without any help from the spouse, there are even fewer hours for togetherness. Erratic work schedules are equally responsible for causing tensions within DINK (double income, no kids) families. Couples are so busy with their careers they have no time for each other.
Kuldeep Date, a clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor at the Thane- based Institute for Psychological Health (IPH), says, "Earlier I would get four to five cases a year for marriage counseling. Now, I get the same number every month!"
Ironically, couples no longer seem keen to make the marriage work. "They come with the attitude, 'Say what you have to say. We have decided to call it quits'," says Date.
Younger couples are nonchalant about a broken relationship. "'Nahi jama,' (Didn't work out) is the bland statement they make," states Shetty. Thus, ethical and moral issues are no longer the regular grounds for divorce. Vaidya adds, "Litigations, too, are changing. Earlier, it used to be fault theory (spouse not morally sound, divorce thus essential.) Now, if there is mutual consent on grounds of incompatibility, getting a divorce becomes very easy," explains Vaidya.
But there is another factor too: the presence of a third person, who plays a damaging role, albeit at the work place: the 'office spouse'. The term describes colleagues who spend around eight hours every day together - at work, during lunch, walking to the bus stop or sharing a taxi to the railway station to go back home. What sets the ball rolling for the office spouse is that at the workplace people are on their best behavior and well turned out - unlike the real wife or husband at home.
Nisha and Suresh (names changed) got divorced last year by mutual consent. Nisha, who has custody of their children, appeared to have lost out to her husband's office spouse. "Ours was an arranged marriage. I felt the incompatibility from the beginning but decided to give it a shot. After two children, things deteriorated. I also came to know that Suresh, my husband, a software engineer, spent more time with his colleague than with me and the kids," explains Nisha, a marketing executive with a leading publishing house in Mumbai.
Yet, for all the nonchalance, heartache remains part of the divorce package.
"The worst affected are the kids. If the couple handles the separation with maturity and informs the children properly, they don't get traumatized. But if there is a lot of mudslinging and abuse then the kids are affected," explains Shetty, who also conducts workshops for children of divorced parents.
What's specially interesting is that a greater number of breakdown of marriages is seen among newly-weds (within one to three years) and older couple (married for 15-20 years).
To safeguard their interest, Vaidya recommends that women ensure that they are economically independent. "I would advise all women, including my daughter, to become self-sufficient. Marriage is no longer a guarantee for a safe future. A broken marriage can leave a person both emotionally damaged and financially crippled," she cautions.
Her advice of financial astuteness could have spared Sheela, 40, plenty of trauma. Recalls the lecturer and mother of a teenage boy, "We took a housing loan in Ganesh's (husband) name to help him save tax. But I didn't have proof to show in court that I had pitched in to pay back the loan. So, he walked away with our flat in Lokhandwala Complex, Andheri." Sheela preferred to get custody of her 15-year-old son rather than fight a long battle for the house and other property.
Sheela is just one of the many women who willingly relinquish a share in the marital property and even alimony to sidestep any obstacles in gaining custody of the children. Date feels such an approach is ill-advised and that women should stake a claim, if only in the interest of their children.