Last week, Bollywood celebrities Malaika Arora Khan and Arbaaz Khan made public their decision to separate, by issuing a joint statement to a Mumbai daily. It read, “The truth is, we have taken a break… We are taking out time to figure out our lives... Yes, it’s true that we are separated, but where our lives go and what transpires between us, it is for us to decide...”
Earlier this year, in another shocking revelation, Farhan Akhtar and his wife, Adhuna Akhtar, after 16 years of marriage, announced their separation. They, too, had issued a joint statement that read, “…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 be protected from unwarranted speculation and public glare...”
According to experts, a separation lays the groundwork for a divorce, whether contested or mutual. In legal terms, it is a mandatory period of one year that precedes a formal divorce. During this time, the couple can choose to live under the same roof or not.
Divorce lawyer Umesh Chary explains, “Sometimes, people mutually want to get divorced within a month of getting married. But that’s not possible. They have to wait for a year. In the case of a contested divorce, one has to prove why he or she has decided to separate, and that he or she tried solving the issues personally or by involving other family members, but nothing worked. In a mutual divorce, you don’t have to prove the reasons for your separation in court.”
Last year, in September, Konkona Sen Sharma and Ranvir Shorey also announced their separation. “Ranvir and I have mutually decided to separate, but continue to be friends and co-parent our son. Will appreciate your support. Thank you, (sic)” Konkona had tweeted.
Officially, the purpose of this separation period is to prove that the marriage is indeed not working. Informally, however, relationship experts feel that this period helps the couple rethink their decision and take a final call, under no pressure. Says Riddhish K Maru, relationship counsellor, “At times, the separation period also gives couples time to reconsider their decision without any interference from family members. The separation period also gives couples enough time to think what they want for their future.”
Once the separation period is over, the couple can then officially file for a divorce. The six months that follow the filing date are referred to as the ‘cooling period’, during which the court provides mandatory counselling sessions for the applicants involved. In the case of a contested divorce, there is no ‘cooling period’. Divorce lawyer Mansi Karia says, “These counselling sessions are held on the first day and the last day of the cooling period for people who file for divorce mutually.”
Says Maru, “During the separation, senior family members try to sort out the issues. But when all these efforts fail, professional marital counselling, which is unbiased, can surely help save the marriage.”
In some cases, a separation doesn’t end in a divorce. For instance, in February, the court granted Om Puri and Nandita Puri “judicial separation”, as they decided to part ways after 26 years. The veteran actor’s lawyer, Jalaja Nambiar, had said in a report, “Mr Puri wanted divorce but because things started going here and there, he opted for an amicable settlement and the court granted them judicial separation under which they are a married couple legally but have their separate lives and cannot interfere in each other’s matter (sic).”
Legally, there is no issue with this status. But divorce lawyer Pooja Thakkar warns, “They won’t be able to get married again until they get a divorce. They can also face difficulties when it comes to property issues or issues related to their children.”
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