Divorces are a sad reality of the human relationship, which often causes pain, discomfort and acrimony, especially when the division of property is involved between the estranged couples.

However, the pain around divorce and ensuing property settlement is further exacerbated when the couples have minimal knowledge of their rights and obligations and general rules and regulations of the land.

The Law Commission’s recent recommendation of changes to divorce laws and following property split-up has raised important questions about the current level of awareness within the Kiwi-Indian community.

Following the Law Commission’s recent announcement around proposed changes in divorce laws, The Indian Weekender spoke with different stakeholders to find out how the community fares when it comes to being aware of managing property issues when relationships disintegrate.

Unsurprisingly and alarmingly, the consensus view of those engaged closely in family-law and social work within the Kiwi-Indian community is that there is not enough awareness around divorce laws and relational property dispute settlement.

Ashima Singh of Legal Associates told said that the general level of awareness within our community in engaging with the law around divorce issues is unsatisfactorily low.

“When we engage with our clients we make it a point to offer them an overall counselling so as to get to know about their goals from the legal process, and also to set right expectations,” Mrs Singh said.

Ashima Singh of Legal Associates

“While every case is different, what is clearly noticeable is that most members of Indian community are not fully aware of the manner in which property disputes are resolved when a relationship ends,” Mrs Singh said.

This view is also corroborated by social workers and community organisations within the community, engaged in helping people in distress for various reasons.

Jit Kaur, President Sikh Women Association – a South Auckland based women organisation which works with people of various ethnicities – said that there is a definite lack of understanding of divorce laws and property settlement issues, at least among the people they engage with and provide support.

“We deal with a lot of people who come to us post-separation or before separation, and we find that most of them have no awareness about rules and obligations in settling divorce issues,” Mrs Kaur said.

 Jit Kaur, President Sikh Women Association NZ

“Lately, surprising though, we have been engaging with more number of males from our community who have been left behind to cope with the process of separation and settling legal issues after a relationship fails,” Mrs Kaur said.

Nilima Venkat, President, Shanti Niwas – a charitable organisation that primarily deals with seniors members in community – but often comes to rescue to those in distress after relationship-failure by providing emergency housing,  opined that with a growing level of education and access to information, especially to youngsters, there seems that awareness is growing around divorce issues.

Nilima Venkat, Manager of Shanti Niwas Charitable Trust

However, Manisha Saini, Barrister and Lawyer of Epsilon Law, who work closely with Shakti – an Ethnic Women’s Support Community Group that work extensively in domestic violence – agreed on the consensus view of minimal awareness in the community.

To put it in perspective, most awareness around divorce issues in our community does not begin before individuals hit the relationship-disruption phase, according to Ms Saini.

Why low level of awareness?

It is imperative to explore some of the leading causes explaining this seemingly dismissal level of awareness around such an essential aspect of relationship-management in Kiwi-Indian community.

Challenge of living in a new country

There is a broad convergence within different experts that one of the main reasons explaining low-level awareness about local laws emanates from the fact of migrating into a new country, and the accompanied language-cultural barrier, in engaging with different stakeholders on the mainstream Kiwi society.

Perception of marriage as an unbreakable bond

However, the main reason is rooted within the traditional Indian thinking around marriage, whereby marriage is treated as a permanent social institution that cannot be broken or disturbed.

Thereby any possible awareness related with how to manage the disruption of marriage-bond between two individuals is seen as problematic, and thus explains the stigma associated with divorce.

Jeet Suchdev, Chairperson, Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust, who had earlier this year represented the Indian diaspora of New Zealand in Government of India’s conference, Indian Organisations Working for Distressed Indians Abroad, also agreed with the suggestion that Indian people tend to see the institution of marriage in a different perspective.

 Jeet Suchdev of Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust

“Most of the times individuals in our community won’t even know what they are getting into,” Mr Suchdev said.

“Pre-nuptial agreement is a distant call for many in our community,” Mr Suchdev said.

What do they need to know?

Pre-nuptial arrangement

This Agreement is entered into by two people before they are married or united by a civil union. These agreements commonly include provisions for the division of property and payment of spousal support in the event of separation.

Indeed, prenup negotiations are awkward and stressful, but more and more Kiwi couples and all over the world have been taking recourse it to minimise any potential stress that can arise in future due to a possible break-up and disintegration of marriage or civil union.

Prenuptial agreements are legally binding if they are in writing and signed by both parties once they have received independent legal advice. 

Benefits of Prenuptial agreements

•    Protecting spouses from each other’s debt;

•    Protecting significant assets owned before the relationship;

•    Protecting a substantial family inheritance;

•    Making the separation process easier – emotionally and financially;

•    Providing security during and after marriage;

•    Maintaining the expectations of the spouses; and

•    Can help prove intention if there is a dispute over a will.

•    Guaranteeing financial security for children from a previous relationship;

Property (Relationships) Act 1976

This Act is mainly about how the property of married couples and civil union couples and couples who have lived in a de facto relationship is to be divided up when they separate, or one of them dies.

This Act applies differently depending on the length of the marriage, civil union, or de facto relationship.