Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The level of corruption within a state’s legal system may be an important factor in evaluating the risk of a proposed visit to that country by a child and a parent in litigation to permit or prevent such a visit.
Obviously the risk is far greater if the level of corruption is high, especially if the parent who wants to take a child to the foreign country is a national of that country or knows his way around” the country.
In this regard, a recent statement by the Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, Mahfud MD, is remarkable. It adds authority, flavor and great substance to the statement in the current U.S. State Department report on Indonesia that “Widespread corruption throughout the legal system continued” and it serves to cast great doubt on the ability of the Indonesia system to take any meaningful steps to recover children from Indonesia who have been abducted to that country, especially if the abducting parent knows his or her way around the country.
Specifically Judge Mahfud stated, in an interview with Strategic Review, The Indonesian Journal of Leadership, Policy and World Affairs, that:
“The corruption is indeed endemic, deeply entrenched in the entire judicial process in Indonesia. The problem is not about the substance but more about the law enforcers and the legal culture. … As I mentioned earlier, in terms of substance, we have a comprehensive law. Anything we need, I can show you the relevant regulation. But the root of the problem is the mentality of our law enforcers. They inherited the corrupt mentality of the New Order regime, and are supported by the legal culture where things can be negotiated outside the courts. Then there is the judicial mafia, which has never been eradicated. We always talk about the substance but never about the structure and the culture. So now, you see judges who talk loudly about how they would eradicate corruption but then are caught red-handed committing it. Attorneys are caught in collusion and many are brought to court. Police officers are also imprisoned because of corruption. This is why our legal development has not worked until now.”
Thursday, April 05, 2012
Krishnan is not alone. It’s not just destination weddings and exotic honeymoons; young urban Indians are adding a new must-have to their nuptial checklist — prenuptial agreements. “Young, urban about-to-wed Indians are increasingly signing prenuptial agreements. They want to lay down clearly who gets what if the marriage turns sour,” says V.K. Singh, a divorce lawyer with Legal Divorce Juris, Delhi.
Singh says both men and women are rushing to lawyers to lay down the financial terms and conditions for marriage. “I get a large number of women who want a signed statement from their fiancés, saying the latter will allow their wives to look after their parents financially after marriage,” he says.
The lawyer, however, adds a word of caution to couples seeking prenuptial agreements. “Prenuptials are not recognised in an Indian court of law. Even then, many couples are opting to sign the agreement, in order to put the financial terms and conditions of their marriage on paper,” says Singh.
A prenuptial agreement — a contract entered into by a couple about to tie the knot — is a signed, registered and notarised document that usually outlines the distribution of assets, liabilities and issues relating to the custody of children if the marriage falls apart in the future.
And with the proposed amendments to the Indian Marriage Act making divorce easier as well as giving women a greater share of the property acquired by the couple during the time they stayed married, interest in prenups will only go up, point out experts.
“The law will impact marriages on the financial front,” says Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer Mahesh Tiwari. “The Marriage Act will allow women to get a 50 per cent share in all property acquired by a couple while they were wedded,” he explains. A Delhi-based men’s rights group, Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), has already demanded that prenuptial agreements be legalised to counter financial ambiguities in marriage, adds Tiwari.
Virag Dhulia, head, gender studies, Confidare Research, a Bangalore-based men’s rights community centre, and also an SIFF member, says Indian marital laws have a lot of grey areas regarding financial and child custody issues. “Prenuptials will bring clarity to wealth distribution between husband and wife. It will ensure that both parties are aware of what they are getting into and what happens if the marriage turns sour,” he explains.
If a couple is headed towards spiltsville, prenups can also help cut short long, exhausting legal battles. “Prenuptials can help couples get an amicable and quick divorce. That will benefit everyone involved,” says Dhulia.
Despite the benefits that prenups can bring to warring couples, as of now, they remain invalid in an Indian court of law. “At best, they can be used for the purpose of evidence, reference or for self-regulation,” says Osama Suhail, associate partner, AMZ Law, a Delhi-based divorce law firm.
Suhail has witnessed first hand that, in an Indian court, a prenuptial agreement may amount to being just a piece of paper. He was representing Amit Seth, a Delhi-based corporate executive, in a divorce case last year. “The couple had signed a prenuptial agreement which specified that Seth’s wife would not seek alimony if the couple were to separate,” recalls Suhail.
When the couple decided to call it quits, Seth’s wife went back on her promise. “She demanded maintenance on the grounds that she was unemployed,” recalls Suhail. When he produced the prenuptial agreement in court, the judge struck it down. Seth now pays a fat sum to his wife every month.
Suhail believes prenups can be a handy tool for couples who want an amicable end to a marriage. “But if one party decides to fight it out, this document has no meaning,” he says.
However, V.P. Sarathi, a divorce lawyer at VPS Law Firm, Coimbatore, believes there are ways of making prenuptials work in the Indian legal system. “Although there is no clause to legalise prenuptials, it depends on the creativity of the lawyer to make a case out of it,” he says.
The lawyer explains with an instance. “If a person breaks a prenuptial agreement signed on a stamped and notarised paper, it becomes a case of fraud. And fraud is a ground for divorce under the Marriage Act,” says Sarathi, who used the prenuptial agreement between his client Jayanth Krishnan and his wife to win his case.
Sarathi says if a prenuptial agreement is made in a legally prescribed format — written on a stamp paper, notarised and has two witnesses — it can carry weight in a law court. “There may not be any written sanction for prenuptials, but judges are often open to interpreting the agreement in different ways,” he says.
However, not everyone is as positive as Sarathi. Mumbai-based matrimonial lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh, who gets about six requests to draft prenuptial agreements every month, says she tells her clients that it’s simply not worth the effort. “I tell them the document doesn’t count in court,” she says.
However, she admits that most of her clients are undeterred by her advice. “An increasing number of urban, high-income couples are signing prenups. Even though the document lacks legal power, they feel it will make both parties morally obligated to stick to its terms in case of a separation,” she says.
Clearly, modern Indian couples want to enter matrimony with their eyes wide open so that if a parting does come about, it can be without acrimony.
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