In a major step aimed at speedy disposal of matrimonial disputes, reducing pileup of such cases and easing things for estranged couples, the Supreme Court has ordered lower courts to use modern technology such as video conferencing in cases where both parties are residing in different cities.
Generally, the wife's convenience is given priority, and hearing for divorce and maintenance or custody of the child is transferred to the jurisdiction of the court where she resides.
But the apex court said that even then, one of the parties needs to first move a transfer petition before it and the husband has to spend a lot on litigation.
The directions from justices AK Goel and UU Lalit came on a transfer plea filed by a woman in a matrimonial dispute on the ground that she lives in Hyderabad with her minor daughter and has to travel to Jabalpur where her estranged husband has filed a divorce case.
The bench allowed the petition and transferred the divorce matter from Jabalpur to a family court in Hyderabad, noting that the plea was pending before it for three years.
"This court is flooded with petitions of this nature and considering the convenience of the wife, a transfer is normally allowed. However, in the process, the litigants have to travel to this court and spend on litigation. Question is whether this can be avoided," the court said.
The Bench observed that one cannot ignore the problem faced by a husband if proceedings are transferred on account of genuine difficulties faced by the wife. The husband may find it difficult to contest proceedings at a place which is convenient to the wife.
Delhi has 11,862 pending matrimonial cases. Its courts disposed of more than 24,000 cases in the last two years. Kerala tops the list with 52,000 cases awaiting adjudication till November 2016. On the contrary, Uttar Pradesh has just 5,466 cases pending in its 76 family courts.
Such less pendency in UP is attributed to its rate of disposal in the last three years. The state has disposed of more than 2 lakh cases from 2013-15, with family courts there disposing of more than 1.19 lakh cases in 2015 alone.
"We understand that in every district in the country, video conferencing is not available. In any case, wherever such facility is available, it ought to be fully utilised and all high courts ought to issue appropriate administrative instructions to regulate the use of video conferencing for certain category of cases," the SC said.
The apex court also said that in cases where one or both parties request for video conference, proceedings may be conducted through it. "Technology ought to be utilised for receiving communication from parties. We are thus of the view that it is necessary to issue certain directions which may provide alternatives to seeking transfer of proceedings on account of inability of a party to contest proceedings at a place away from their ordinary residence on the ground that if proceedings are not transferred, it will result in denial of justice," it said.
The court identified ignorance about availability of suitable legal services as another problem faced by litigants and asked legal aid committees in every district to make available on their website details of panel advocates for enhancing access to justice.
"These steps may, to some extent, take care of the problems of litigants. These suggestions may need attention of the high courts," it said.
Also read: How to plan finances when getting a divorce