Cultural Nuances in a South Asian American Divorce
By Yasmin Kutty
Marriage in South Asian culture such as in India and Pakistan involves the extended family on both sides of the table. Whether the marriage is arranged, semi-arranged, or arises out of a dating relationship, the bride and groom’s parents usually have a say in the decision to marry. Marriage is sacred and not to be entered into lightly. Consequently, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to stay married and not divorce. Divorce is a last resort, affects the status of the entire family within the community and usually involves both sides of the family getting involved in multiple attempts at reconciliation between the couple. In the end, there are more and more South Asian couples here in the U.S. that do eventually decide they can no longer be together and divorce is the only option.
Translating a South Asian marriage into a Texas divorce involves a multitude of issues. Three issues at the forefront are financial transparency between the couple, presumptions about child custody issues, and gold jewelry given at the time of the marriage. It is imperative the couples decide prior to the marriage or during the marriage to disclose each other’s financial information. Good examples are going over each other’s credit card debt, balances of all retirement accounts, checking and saving account statements, and property held by each prior to the marriage. Discussing each other’s attitudes about spending and saving is important too. Today, many dual income couples opt to keep all their finances separate without understanding that any income earned after the date of marriage is considered community property which is subject to division at the time of the divorce.
Many times a husband or wife that walks into my office insists on wanting custody of the children, that the other parent should be kept away from the children, and that he or she should be able to move away with the children. In Texas, both parents regardless of which parent has the right to determine the primary residence of the children, have substantive rights to jointly determine medical, psychological and educational issues and to have almost equal possession and access of the children. The principle behind this is to ensure that the children have lots of access to both parents, especially the non-custodial parent after a divorce.
Finally, at the time of the marriage gold jewelry often valued at thousands of dollars is given to the bride from both her parents and the groom’s parents. Many times some of the items such as bangles and necklaces are heirlooms being passed down from generation to generation. During a divorce proceeding, everyone wants what was ‘gifted’ at the time of the wedding returned. The parents of the couple usually are the purchasers and grantors of the gifts. If it was given to the bride or the groom at the time of the marriage, the presumption is that the jewelry is a gift from the grantor to the grantee. If it involves heirlooms and the parties are amicably divorcing, I find the husband or wife will often consider returning those items. In other instances it becomes a high conflict issue.
With proper legal guidance from an attorney, navigating through a divorce with assets or children can be streamlined. Each party should have realistic expectations throughout the process.
Yasmin Kutty is a divorce attorney in Sugar Land, Texas.
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