‘Couples need not attend court in mutual divorce hearings’

When parties cannot be present because of practical difficulties such as work constraints, the court says they can use a webcam for verification and confirmation of consent.
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Updated on Apr 03, 2012 01:19 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByMenaka Rao, Mumbai

A couple that has filed for divorce by mutual consent need not be present in court during proceedings. Last week, the Bombay high court held that such proceedings could take place through a webcam.

The case, in which the decision was taken, involved a 33-year-old man, who runs a travel agency in Mumbai, and his 31-year-old wife, who works in New Jersey, USA. In 2010, the man filed a divorce petition against his wife after she allegedly deserted him in 2009. In February this year, the couple decided to convert the contesting the divorce petition to a petition of divorce with mutual consent.

The wife, in her affidavit, stated that she “cannot get leave to attend the court” and that she has signed the consent terms voluntarily. Her father appeared as a power of attorney in the court.

However, on February 7, US Iyer, principal judge of the family court, refused to verify the consent terms stating that it is “not safe” to do so in the absence of the wife and refused video-conferencing.

According to procedure, after consent terms are verified, the couple goes through counselling before the court grants a divorce decree.

“While the earlier set of judges would allow conducting matters via webcam, the newly transferred judges did not allow us to do the same. We then decided to move the high court to get a precedent in such matters,” said the husband’s lawyer, Usha Tanna.

In her order, justice Mridula Bhatkar stated that when parties cannot remain present because of practical difficulties such as lack of leave at work, “there is no illegality to solve such difficulty by adopting novel and available ways.” The court allowed the parties to use technology such as webcam to solve the problem.

“Though physical presence is not possible, the court can rely on the virtual presence of the parties for verification and confirmation of the mutual consent,” the order stated. The court further added that even marriage counselling could be facilitated “by a virtual presence.”

The matter will now heard before the family court via a webcam on April 9.

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