Its complicated The twilight area between marriage and divorce
Many estranged couples choose to separate, but not divorce. Seema Sinha meets some to discover how they negotiate their parallel lives
Breaking all convention, Babita decided to walk out of the Kapoor household along with her two daughters, Karisma and Kareena. Reportedly, Babita could not cope with the larger-than-life figure of Randhir's father and filmmaker Raj Kapoor over his life. Decades later, Randhir Kapoor and Babita continue to remain husband and wife, though leading separate lives. "Randhir Kapoor believes in the sanctity of marriage. He has always said that she is the mother of their daughters," says Madhu Jain, author of Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema.
The love has faded, but the couple is wary of looking for new partners. In another case, Ratna Adarkar (name changed) and her husband of 25 years have decided to live a life of compromise, sans the "hassles" of divorce. These are not the only ones who are choosing to stay in the twilight area between marriage and divorce. According to the experts, breaking up is hard — and expensive!
Long after romance is dead, a separation or "non-divorce" offers a happier alternative. Sometimes, they stay together to avoid the expenses of a new household. Actor Saif Ali Khan reportedly decided to divorce Amrita Singh only after his career zoomed with Dil Chahta Hai. Till then, they lived under the same roof, though they remained emotionally distant, reveals a veteran film journalist.
There are no hard statistics, but some divorce experts say they're seeing more of this phenomenon. Says psychiatrist Rajendra Barve, "This gives them space, minus the commitment, which is like having their cake and eating it, too. They may also want to avoid the 'stigma' of divorce." Remarks psychiatrist Kersi Chawda, "If neither plans to marry again, they may simply want to avoid the expenses and time that goes into legally ending their marriage."
Prominent actress Raakhee Gulzar and her writer- director husband Gulzar are one such couple, who have lived separately for years. Says senior film journalist Dinesh Raheja, "Their daughter Bosky kept them bonded. Gulzar and Raakhee would meet for her sake, attend PTA meetings together." In fact, when Gulzar won an Oscar for his contribution to the film Slumdog Millionaire, Raakhee commented that "her husband" was the best.
One of the most glaring examples in Bollywood is of high-profile star couple Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia, who also chose the middle path of 'non-divorce'. In the 80s, both the auburn-haired gorgeous Dimple as well as the yesteryear superstar wanted divorce, but when Rajesh Khanna began dodging Dimple's demand for financial security for her young daughters, the actress too refused to sign the divorce papers. "Her daughter Twinkle, in her teens then, strongly felt that her parents shouldn't be living together," says the veteran journalist.
Adds Dinesh, "But over the years, the bitterness between Rajesh and Dimple washed away. I have seen them enjoy a party together and found them very comfortable in each other's company. Dimple campaigned for him during elections and also worked in his film. I guess it has worked out for them living separately rather than coming home to be with each other."
Explains a marriage counsellor, "A couple may not legally divorce for the children's sake, or if there is the issue of division of wealth and inheritance. They may also want to keep up appearances in society."
Relationship experts say the arrangement can allow partners to discreetly date other people while keeping up an illusion of marriage for children and the community at large. And finances, significantly, stay intact. "They are really making pragmatic, businesslike decisions for their marriage," point out experts. Also, with both partners working, not all women care for alimony.
But, it may not always turn out favourable. Married for three years and separated for a year, Anandita, an investment banker, who has a one-year-old daughter, feels embittered and cheated by her philandering husband. "He has not filed for divorce and I don't want to either, because I don't want to remarry. I can't have a stranger in my life. When my daughter grows up, I don't want her to blame me for the separation," says Anandita, who is stuck with responsibilities while her husband has it easy.
Talking about the rights of women in such a situation, women's right lawyer Flavia Agnes, points out that women can claim maintenance and demand their right to stay in the same house. "Often, when men decide to remarry, they pressurise their spouse for divorce. Here, the wife can negotiate for a good settlement, a lump sum amount and shelter in the same house," says Flavia. A marriage counsellor adds that she has witnessed couples staying together despite disagreements to claim benefits of medical and pension plans.
However, can the so-called "non-divorced" ever move on emotionally? The emotional and legal closure of an official divorce may forever elude them. They can also find themselves in a difficult spot when one or both partners begin to seriously date again.
It's also financially risky, point out the experts. A partner who no longer lives with you can still ruin your finances or put you in debt.
On the other hand, if you gain assets, your partner could still legally claim half.
Their status is definitely complicated!