Next time you eye that NRI matrimonial classified advertisement or surf wedding portals with a view to live out the Great American Dream, keep in mind that it is, increasingly, turning out to be a knotty affair: three out of five NRI marriages in the US are being dissolved in less than a year.
This sorry state of Indian married life in the US will constitute a key portion of a seminar, on NRIs in the US, organised by Seva Legal Aid Foundation — an NGO working out of Fremont, California, in the US. The seminar, that will also cover NRI investments and immigrations, will be held on October 13 at New Delhi’s India International Centre.
The Great Indian Divorce
There are around 18 million NRIs in the US — these include green card holders, H1-B workers and illegal immigrants. And the cookie is fast crumbling for the Great Indian Wedding, held with traditional pomp back home in India. “It is very easy for someone to file for a divorce in the US,” says Anu Peshawaria, founder of Seva, and an Indian Supreme Court attorney. “For under $500, you can do the needful in a week’s time with the help of US Divorce & Document Assistance.”
This is the route being taken by NRI men — many of whom already have live-in girlfriends but get married to keep their families happy — and there are around 15,600 NRI divorces every year in the US.
“I handle at least 40 cases a month where the wives come for help — they cannot imagine contesting a divorce as one has to cough up $2,500-$3,000 as legal retainership, and thereafter hourly fees,” she says. “There are even cases where the men are gay but marry simply to gain social acceptance.”
The wives come on the H-4 visa, the ‘spouse visa’, and cannot find employment once their husbands leave them. One case that Peshawaria handled recently involved an NRI working for a software company, who married an Indian girl with the usual fanfare.
In a year’s time, he wanted out; by then, the couple already had a daughter. He got himself a divorce, and in order to avoid paying maintenance, he applied for a student visa and secured that too.
Advocate Anupam Tripathi says, “A divorce procured in the US does not usually have a legal standing in India, but this is a grey area: it is decided on a case to case basis, and depends on the judge.”
This, he adds, will only apply if the husband returns to India. If he does not and chooses to remain in the US, nothing can stop him from getting remarried there.
Sandhya Shukla, director, social services unit, Ministry of Overseas Affairs (MOE), says, “The US is a federal state where every state has its own laws, so it is easy for the man to go to a state that has easier divorce laws and procure a divorce. The wife will not even get to know of it — till she is slapped with a notice.”
Malay Mishra, joint secretary, diaspora services division, MOE, says that the ministry is trying to “build awareness about the credentials of NRI grooms in question.” Shukla adds that “starting February last year, we have organised three conferences to educate people about the pitfalls of NRI marriages — the NGOs will have a big role to play in this campaign.” Many ‘victim’ families are keen to be volunteers in this effort. However, nothing has been done to enforce any guidelines abroad.
A sidelight of the Great NRI Wedding is that more and more NRI men are opting for Filipinos as they are considered, like their Indian counterparts, good homemakers.