Covid induced economic crisis disrupts payment of alimony to divorced women

Even though the outbreak of the global Covid epidemic seems to be slowing down these days, its ill effects on society and families are now emerging, giving rise to new problems. One of these problems is related to divorced women.

The outbreak of Corona has pushed a large number of employees, especially  those working in the private sector, into severe financial crisis. Many employees in the private sector are finding it difficult to pay a fixed amount per month to divorced women due to their unemployment or  because their salary is being cut.

Because of this, many divorced women who are dependent on alimony every month too are facing financial problems. The financial crisis resulting from the prolonged Covid  lockdowns has  badly affected the maintenance and related claims of many divorced women.

According to a report from United Nations titled “Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020: Families in a Changing World” only 1.1% of women are divorced, with those in urban areas making up the largest proportion in India. While India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world, the number of divorcees has doubled over the past two decades.

In the family court in Pune more than half the cases are related to maintenance and claims of divorced couples. Many divorced women have  had to approach the courts due to sudden cessation of the alimony due to them. The rush of new cases is such that the dates for hearing the complaints of such women are being given after one to two months. The number of claims related to alimony is also expected to rise even further in the coming months.

“If maintenance is ordered by the court to the complaining women, then along with it, the actual financial position of the husband of the divorced woman should be investigated. It is true that the lockdown has had a very bad effect especially on the employees associated with the private sector and many have had salaries reduced drastically. In such a situation, the court can direct the government to issue a relief package for a stipulated time keeping this category of employees and such women in mind” says advocate Supriya Kothari, who practices in the Pune family court.

COVID Response Watch LogoTake the case of Vinayak Khaire, who was fired from the post of driver by an NGO last March. Since then he has not been able to get a good job. Due to this, he is not able to maintain his divorced wife since last April.

“If I did not want to pay alimony, I could have stopped before March last year itself. But, I haven’t missed any payment in the last three years. The court should not ignore the fact that it has become difficult for me to run my own household during the time of unemployment” he says.

Apart from this, many private sector employees are also facing other pressures like paying home loans or auto loan instalments. Some employees have also fallen ill during this period. For example, Ganesh Thakur, an auto rickshaw driver, says that he has taken a loan from his acquaintances due to health-related reasons. Therefore, they clearly say that even for the next few months, they will not be able to pay maintenance.

At the same time, Supriya Kothari says that while the family court has started functioning, it will take some more time for the financial condition of many employees to improve. Keeping this in mind, practical situations should be investigated before reaching any conclusion and in this case the government should announce a relief package.

A divorced woman, on the condition of anonymity, says that she is willing to  accept outstanding maintenance in some instalments.

“There should be no compromise with the amount sanctioned for maintenance,” she says. Even if you pay the previous amount in instalments, it will work. I know the situation is bad, but any decision should be taken keeping in mind our situation also, because we are already very upset” she says.

Some divorced women are preparing to arrive at a mutual settlement instead of pursuing the matter in the courts. They are ready to find a solution to get alimony from their former husbands as per their convenience and want to get the alimony in a phased manner.

On the other hand, Vaishali Chandne, president of the Family Court Lawyers Association says the ongoing crisis of divorced couples should not be ignored and a broader solution is needed.

“Despite the order to pay alimony, if the order is not followed, then this point should also be considered by the court. It is not clear whether many employees are avoiding alimony citing financial constraints, while they can pay alimony. If the financial condition is good then it is not proper to give wrong reasons. Therefore, it is necessary to put in place a monitoring mechanism during the disposal of cases, so that it can be ensured that the right to maintenance of divorced women is not being deliberately violated” he says.

Shirish Khare has been associated with rural journalism for a long time and has been continuously reporting on the economic, social and health impacts of rural life during the Covid pandemic.

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