They also point to cases of reducing maintenance amounts and men wanting to renegotiate alimony conditions
While many people in lockdown are appreciating the opportunity to spend time with families, there seems to be a side-effect as well. Matrimonial lawyers have pointed to a spike in phone calls related to marital discord. They said many of these calls are from couples who have been married for over 10 years and are now waiting for the courts to reopen so they can file for divorce. Some other phone calls are said to be related to divorce settlements and maintenance amounts. Despite the lockdown, there have been requests for urgent personal meetings.
The lawyers this newspaper spoke to said clients who have already been consulting them are calling with news of job losses, salary cuts or unpaid leave. While some have already reduced the maintenance amounts by half or one-third, others want the alimony renegotiated.
Advocate Vandana Shah said she and her two colleagues have been attending around 20 to 30 calls per day for the past one week, while another well-known matrimonial lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh said she must have attended about 10 calls in a week. Taubon Irani, with around three decades of practice in the family court, said there have been cases where husbands have cut down the monthly maintenance for now, and will try and justify the reduction once the courts start working normally.
Most of the couples the lawyers spoke about are either affluent middle-class or in the high net worth category.
In one of these cases, the husband, who was earlier abroad or out of the city for work, is now stuck home. His wife, her lawyer said, discovered something amiss by the way he answered certain phone calls. In another case, the husband followed the wife despite the lockdown after she answered a phone call “in a suspicious manner”. He told his lawyer that he discovered that she was cheating on him and meeting her boyfriend.
Shah said it’s unfortunate that this emergency is testing relationships. She said she and her team are trying their best to be counsellors, but “if people can’t reconcile then we have no choice but to follow the instructions”. According to Deshmukh, two women told her they can’t brush issues under the carpet any longer, and “managing compatibility” has somehow “taken a turn for the worse”.
Shah said one of her clients had earlier been offered around Rs 1.25 crore as alimony by her estranged husband but the amount has now come down to Rs 75 lakh as his income is connected to the share market.
Irani said one of her clients has reduced the monthly maintenance to Rs 50,000 from Rs 1 lakh as his salary has seen a 25 per cent cut.
Another client, who has been asked to remain on “unpaid leave”, has stopped paying his former wife Rs 20,000 monthly maintenance. Deshmukh said the settlement offers in some of the cases she has been handling on behalf of aggrieved wives have been cut by 50-70 per cent.
“I hope the situation improves and better sense prevails among the warring couples,” said Irani on the likely spike in the divorce cases when courts resume full time.