Can our courts do couple therapy?
The Delhi High Court has rightly observed that a case of matrimonial dispute was not just a legal one and not just a family problem but a social concern and should not be viewed from the prism of legal technicalities alone. There has been a drastic change in India as old taboos that ensured that divorces never happened have been challenged. There has been a huge rise in the divorce rates though India continues to have a far lower rate than many other countries. Some of the divorces may be taking place because of the increasing pressures of life and of the workplace as also a lack of patience and tolerance, with couples not putting in a sufficient effort in their relationship to fix the issues bedeviling it. Yet, undoubtedly, there are genuine cases of discord and dispute, of cruelty and of incompatibility that make it necessary for couples to separate. The rise in the number of such disputes means an increasing pressure on courts but unfortunately such cases can drag on for years despite the institution of the special family courts to deal with them.
Matrimonial disputes are different from the general run of cases before the courts because they are mostly personal matters between a husband and wife and are often emotional issues that have to be dealt with great sensitivity and pragmatically. A strict adherence to legal rules can do violence to the issues involved in such family matters and can lead to great injustice.The judges, therefore, have to be sufficiently astute to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff and to arrive at a true state of the relationship of the disputing couple which has brought its cahier of complaints and mutual recriminations before them. Courts have generally adopted conciliatory procedures to bring about settlements of various kinds between disputing couples. They have followed the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in its 59th Report given in the year 1974 that in dealing with disputes concerning the family, the Court ought to adopt an approach radically different from that adopted in ordinary civil proceedings and that it should make reasonable efforts at settlement before the commencement of the trial. Yet, while efforts at conciliation and mediation between couples by outside parties before trial may be fruitful at times, much still depends on the wisdom of the judges.