However, till about five years ago, divorces were almost always synonymous with acrimony. One would have to be prepared to battle it out in courts over alimony, and custody if kids were involved, to finally be free of a relationship they had committed to. So much so, that when Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow put up a post about conscious uncoupling while announcing her separation from first husband Chris Martin, she was ridiculed and had to tackle angry reactions. A whole generation of kids who grew up with divorced parents and in broken homes, refused to believe that a couple could have an amicable divorce, remain friends and co-parent their children. But a few years down the line, more and more couples are seeing sense opting to be cordial instead of baying for each others’ blood.
Hrithik and Sussanne’s 13-year-old marriage may have ended but the two continue to come together for their sons, at every opportunity possible. In fact, during the lockdown, Sussanne had even shifted to Hrithik’s house so that the kids wouldn’t have to go for months without seeing both parents. Konkona and Ranvir have also been co-parenting their son, as have Malaika Arora and Arbaaz Khan ever since their divorce was finalised.
Pooja Bhatt was probably right when she tweeted, “Nothing new about co-parenting even after one decides to part ways as husband & wife. Relationships are not made/un-made on paper. They are written on one’s heart. Maintaining a relationship based on respect through, and even after a marriage ends requires Integrity. Few manage that”. While it’s true that right now only a few are managing to go through an amicable divorce, considering how influential Bollywood celebs are in India–brands sign them at such astronomical amounts for a reason–it shouldn’t be long before their ways percolate down to the masses. But has it already? For our #BigStory this week, we spoke to divorce lawyers, marriage counsellors, and child psychologists to better understand if the domino effect has begun and if so, where are we headed in terms of the future of divorces and relationships. Here’s what they had to say:
After filing for a divorce in 2014, Karisma Kapoor and her ex-husband Sanjay Kapur officially split up in 2016. As far as alimony was concerned, a lawyer related to the case was quoted saying, “Karisma will get Sunjay’s father’s house transferred in her name. Sunjay has to purchase bonds worth Rs 14 crore for the children, which will attract a monthly interest of around Rs 10 lakh”. Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh also didn’t part quite as amicably. Later, Saif was quoted as saying, “I’m supposed to give Amrita Rs 5 crore, of which I’ve already given her approximately Rs 2.5 crore. Also, I’m paying Rs 1 lakh per month until my son becomes 18. I’m not Shah Rukh Khan. I don’t have that kind of money. I’ve promised her I’ll pay up the rest of the money, and I will, even if I’ve to slog till I drop dead”. Financial matters, while always secondary in a dissolution of marriage, also play a big role in the nature of separation, and issues crop up when an agreement is not reached.
Divorce lawyer Vandana Shah, who has herself gone through an acrimonious divorce battle, says she operates on 90 per cent empathy when she helps a client through a divorce process, and hence, always tries to tell them to resolve matters amicably rather than go for litigation. “People come to me agitated and tell me they want to win at any cost. I tell them that when they go for a divorce, they are already losing–years of togetherness and love. No one can be a winner in a divorce but we can certainly control the losses incurred. Fighting and proving a point in court can’t be the way forward,” she points out, relaying the story of a client who paid Rs 50 lakh to her husband to come to an amicable settlement instead of haggling over the amount and dragging it out in the court, and also of one of her acquaintances fighting it out in the court for 10 years to get a settlement of just Rs 30 lakh. “I joke with my clients that currently both he and I drive a BMW, by the end of the divorce, he shouldn’t be going home in a cycle. So, instead of paying me Rs 10 lakh, he should rather pay it to his wife,” she laughs.
Mrunalini Deshmukh, who has handled quite a lot of celebrity divorces, agrees with Vandana by saying that financial aspects matter. “People have realised that going to courts drains their finances, time, and emotions. The whole setup gets disturbed. Secondly, they have also realised that if they can talk and sort it out amongst themselves, it is always a better option,” she reasons.
Farhan Akhtar and Adhuna Bhabani decided to part ways after 15 years. The ex-couple who are parents to two daughters Shakya and Akira issued a joint statement much like Aamir and Kiran, writing, “This is to announce that we, Adhuna and Farhan, have mutually and amicably decided to separate. Our children remain our priority and it is immensely important to us, as responsible parents, that they are protected from unwarranted speculation and public glare. We sincerely request that we are given the privacy that is required at this time to move forward in a dignified manner”. Now, the duo co-parents their children, and Farhan recently even took his daughter along with him when he went on a holiday with his girlfriend Shibani Dandekar. Lawyers are of the opinion that a good advocate is the way forward to dealing with divorces in a dignified manner.
Mrunalini, however, also keeps stressing the importance of lawyers presenting the clients with the right advice. “When clients come to me, they are in a very agitated state of mind. They don’t know what is to be done; there is uncertainty, fear, rage, sense of revenge. A family lawyer has to be very sensitive and offer an objective view of the situation to their clients. As a lawyer, I try to understand the seriousness of the issue to ascertain it is not a reaction-based decision that is leading to the divorce. Secondly, no divorce proceeding should start by making allegations, running the spouse down, or making them into a villain. So, I first send a legal notice on the lines that my client intends to take a divorce, however, he/she reserves all the rights to deal with all the legal and factual contentions that may arise at a later stage. But prior to doing that, he/she is ready and willing to explore the possibility of an amicable divorce, keeping the rights and entitlements in mind. This legal notice is not flavoured with harshness; it is more an invitation to the other side to discuss the matrimonial issue with their appointed lawyer. Every time, both clients start out with high expectations but this is where the lawyer comes into play by explaining what they can expect to get in the court of law,” she explains.
Mrunalini suggests that just like judges are trained in dealing with family court matters in judicial institutes, there should be training provided to lawyers who propose to take up matrimonial law. “These matters have to be dealt with a lot of maturity and sensitivity unless there are extreme cases of physical violence or sexual abuse. Then, of course, police and litigation are the way forward. But today, in some sections of society, the laws are misused. There is legal extortion taking place. If we can tackle that, divorce cases can be solved in a more mature way,” she observes.
Divorce lawyer Manjula Rao is in complete agreement with Mrunalini when she says that it is an advocate who decides the course of a divorce. Just last week, she settled a case where the couple parted ways amicably, with children being allowed to visit the father and even the grandparents. “Children should be given the choice to be with both parents; they shouldn’t be used as baits. But there are cases where in-laws and parents get involved and everything gets complicated. Divorces often become cash crops for girls and boys don’t have any other option than paying up. It all depends on how the advocate advises. There are some who keep on litigating and ego-fuelled couples keep fighting too. It is better to pay a little more to the wife than to a lawyer. An educated couple always goes down that path,” she points out.
BONE OF CONTENTION
Citing the example of her own father Kabir Bedi who married four times, actress Pooja Bedi, in an interview relayed how for her, the decision to go ahead with a divorce despite all the naysayers, also came from the way she grew up. She reasoned that she grew up in a divorced family, knowing fully well that one does find love again. She said that her parents made sure they were included in both their lives. Speaking to a news portal, Pooja’s daughter Alaya F, who made her Bollywood debut recently admitted that she had had a happy childhood and that both her parents are still on great terms. She went on to add that they never felt like something bad had happened.
One of the major issues with divorces so far was the trauma that they caused, especially to children. However, amicable divorces ensure that the children feel free to express themselves about the situation too like in Pooja Bedi and daughter Alaya F’s case. “If both spouses have moved on, the only concern is their children. The problem arises when one of the spouses hasn’t moved on,” says Vandana Shah, pointing out the example of an actor-director couple, where the actress wasn’t letting go of the husband citing their daughter as the reason, till the daughter herself told her it was okay. “It is better for the child to not have parents arguing all the time. The child can’t be the hook to keep a relationship going,” she asserts.
Marriage counsellor Sucheta Saha of Coach Suchetaa points out that when couples come to her for counselling, she needs to heal them first. But even then, if a couple decides to part ways, they are advised to keep it as cordial as possible. “There are cases where a kid stays alternating weeks with parents, they have dinners and vacations together. Kids are not traumatised by a divorce; they see how their parents react. If a kid sees parents smiling when talking to each other, and not raising their voice, they are fine with it. Issues crop up when one of the spouses is not willing to part ways. In such cases, we advise the spouse to heal themselves first. When that happens and they come to terms with the fact that they would rather not be in a bad relationship, everything gets resolved. One needs to understand that they won’t be lonely forever; a female client of mine got married at 43”.
NO CHILD’S PLAY THIS
In a recent interview, actress Shruti Haasan shared that her parents, actors Kamal Haasan and Sarika are “wonderful and beautiful people” and should not be forced to be together. She told Zoom, “I was glad they separated as I do not think two people who are not getting along, should be forced to get along for some reason. They continue to be wonderful parents”. Like Shruti, children whose parents parted ways amicably grow up to be better adjusted.
Clinical Psychologist and trauma expert, Seema Hingorany starts out by admitting that Bollywood celebs’ kids also go through a gamut of emotions, in fact, more because they read everything in media and are bullied for it in school. “But the times are changing. Now, there is a lot of awareness around the effect a divorce can have on a child, which explains why now even before going through a divorce, couples come to me with their children to help them understand the process better. That’s wonderful!” she exclaims.
Seema goes on to add, “Children whose parents are amicably divorced will never report signs of trauma, depression, substance abuse, or dysfunctional relationships. They don’t see their parents mudslinging, so they grow up with no confusion or chaos in their minds. Earlier, children were coached by parents to go to court and testify against the spouse; we all saw how that ended up. Now, a lot of importance is placed on mental health and rightly so. Even till five years ago, this was not the case”.
“There have been some instances where a couple pretends to be amicable for children but that has consequences,” relays Suvish Sunderam, a childhood and teenage counsellor, also adding, “I have no numbers, but there are many cases now where the couples are really on cordial terms; in fact, perhaps their arrangement has worked better than normal families. Children also do better when they have their own identity and see the mother and father supporting them”.
But is the real world following suit or is conscious uncoupling only for the rich and famous? Seema Hingorany adds, “All couples are not like this. But there are a lot of instances now where divorces have become so amicable that both spouses remarry and then all four of them go on vacations together with the kids. The popularity of western media also helps kids and families understand amicable divorces better”.
Summing it up, Vandana Shah says, “The media thrives on acrimony. Hence, celeb couples resolve their issues first and then issue a joint statement. When a regular couple sees this, they want the same for themselves. A client of mine, who is obviously influenced by Hrithik Roshan enough to name her son after one of his sons, wondered why couldn’t she have an amicable divorce like him. By presenting a united front, these celebs are inspiring others too”.