As a writer, I have to research many things and that happens to include marital law in the US. Recently I learnt that prenuptial agreements in the US are binding by law. If the agreement clearly stipulates something – like say neither husband nor wife will ask for alimony – then that is final regardless of how fair or unfair it might be at the time of divorce. The assumption is that both parties are adults and if a valid prenuptial contract was entered into freely without fraud, then people must take responsibility for their decisions.
I found myself wondering whether activists will accept such a system in India. What if a couple signs a pre nup saying that neither person will ask for alimony or maintenance and that each will have their own finances. During the subsequent divorce if the wife has been a homemaker, courts will have no choice but to cut her loose without any financial aid because the prenup was very clear regarding this.
So my question is this – do we treat grown women as adults who are free to determine their own future and even ruin it if they wish by being foolish? I know that many laws in India are meant to protect the “poor” and “uneducated” women from exploitation, but what if such a woman signs a prenuptial agreement to her detriment with full knowledge of what she’s doing? Do we allow her to sign her future away and give her the respect she deserves as an adult along with the freedom to do with her life as she wishes?
A large portion of women’s rights deals with setting women free from “protective” institutions which ultimately seek to control them – like many parents, the moral police, khap panchayats and the like. But with freedom comes responsibility. Do we also give supposedly poor and uneducated women the right to be foolish and enter into contracts freely which might go against their best interests? Let’s assume they’re fully aware of the consequences of their actions.
As of now, I don’t see prenuptial agreements having legal validity in India. If some provisions are blatantly unfair, many of us will cry out that the woman is being exploited and step in to save her from a life of poverty and destitution. But is that a good thing? I don’t really know. On the one hand, we must allow women to enter into legally binding contracts as adults. On the other hand, many will say they need protection from being taken advantage of.
In other words, do we treat underprivileged women as true adults in every sense of the word? If not, why don’t we just abolish the concept of “reaching the age of maturity” entirely?