Refer matrimonial disputes for mediation, rules HC

'Efforts should always be made to preserve the institution of marriage'

Refer matrimonial disputes for mediation, rules HC

Family courts should try and resolve matrimonial disputes by referring them for mediation, the High Court has ruled.

Hearing a petition by a 23-year-old woman, Bhavana Ramprasad, Justice A N Venugopala Gowda set aside an order by the family court that rejected her plea to refer the matter for mediation. 

The family court failed to notice that the paramount duty of the court is to restore peace among the parties, Justice Gowda observed. “(A) matrimonial case is not like other cases before a court. Annulment of marriage not only affects the parties and their families but also the society which feels its reverberations. (An) endeavour should always be made on preserving the institution of marriage,” the court noted. 

Stressing the need to refer such matters to mediation centres at a time when the disputes are increasing, the court said that mediation, arbitration and conciliation centres had been set up to reduce the burden of courts.

“(An) earnest effort has to be made to resolve the disputes by referring cases to alternative dispute redress forums, particularly the matrimonial disputes, by referring them to mediation centre,” the court observed. 

Bhavana had married Yadunandan Parthasarathy, an NRI in the US, on June 26, 2013. But less than a year later, in March 2014, the husband moved the family court seeking that the marriage be declared null and void. 

When Bhavana pleaded that the matter be referred for mediation, the court rejected her application, stating that it could not be done so when the prayer was to declare the marriage null and void. 

“The law cannot be given in the hands of parties to decide by themselves as to what is a nullity and what is a fraud... the plea that a party to a marriage certainly needs recording of evidence and does not depend upon the say of the party.

 Thus, on facts it is not a proper case to exercise discretion to refer for mediation.” Bhavana moved the High Court against this order, contending that the family court had erred in holding that the case was not fit to be referred for mediation. The husband objected to this petition, arguing there was no error on part of the family court. 

Setting aside the order, the High Court said that the family court judge had proceeded in the case as if he had the discretion in the matter of referring cases for mediation. 

“There is absolute misconception in saying so. The statutory provisions mandate that the court should make every effort for bringing reconcilation or settlement between the parties.

There is no discretion conferred to bypass serious statutory provisions,” Justice Gowda said. Stating that the entire approach of the family court judge was a breach of statutory provisions, the High Court observed that the family court had not acted in a manner that was required of it.

 “The family court has not shown a human approach while dealing with the matrimonial dispute since the marriage is an institution of great social relevance,” the court said. 

The High Court has directed the family court to refer the matter to the mediation centre. The High Court registry has been directed to send the copy of this order to all family courts in the State as guidelines. 

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