Family Law Reform Blog
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
  Reconciliation procedures in divorce court are too little, too late
This article from the Malaysian newspaper "Sun to Surf" observes some of the same things that I and others have been saying about marriage reconcilation procedures in American state divorce laws -- they begin too late in the divorce process to save marriages, and the people administering them do not take them seriously. (Half the states of the U.S. and many European countries have such laws -- ADR recently did a study of them and a proposal on how to improve them.

What it takes to save marriages
Maria J. Dass
13 Mar 2006

PETALING JAYA: Marriages heading into trouble need to be saved way before hitting the brink of divorce.

As such, efforts to protect the sanctity of marriage as contained in the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 may not be effective as most cases referred to the Marriage tribunal are already past the reconciliation stage.

Help can only make a difference where a marriage has not reached the stage of divorce, but when one or both spouses file for divorce, this usually means that they have passed the stage of reconciliation, said Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity Harcharan Singh.

In most cases, couples will issue a joint petition where they are not required to refer the matter to the marriage tribunal, he said when responding to questions on the effectiveness of the marriage tribunal in reconciling ailing marriages.

However, if one party wants to work at the marriage, then it is referred to the tribunal where efforts will be made to reconcile them, failing which a certificate will be issued stating that all conciliatory efforts have failed, he said.

The party which is asking for the divorce is not compelled to attend the hearing with counsellors, so efforts to patch things up are often futile, said Harcharan.

Speaking of his experience in the Sentul Gudwara conciliatory board, he said: "In 24 years, only one couple came to us for help - and that too only one party, as the other was not willing to reconcile."

Efforts to help couples going through a bad patch have been taken up by some temples and churches.

The Catholic Church, for example, has a marriage encounter programme where couples who have been married for more than five years are encouraged to participate. It focuses on helping couples rediscover their relationship and mend tensions that have been building up over the years.

theSun on March 13, 2006, front-paged a report that the marriage tribunals set up to counsel couples against divorce were a farce as of the 4,307 couples counselled last year, only 103 marriages (2.4%) were saved.

This was because inexperienced counsellors issued certificates (so that divorce petitions can be heard in court) without seriously trying to reconcile them.

On April 21, 2004 Justice Datuk V. T. Singham chided the Batu Gajah marriage tribunal in the High Court in Ipoh.

The judge had said that instead of making serious attempts to save a marriage, the tribunal preferred to issue certificates stating that reconciliation was not possible.

He said the tribunal took just 15 minutes to conclude its session.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said if the allegations are true, it goes against what her ministry has been propogating.

"I will study the matter and bring it up at the cabinet meeting."

When the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act was enacted in 1976, the statute was intended to protect the sanctity of marriage.

Thus, ensuring all means were taken before even proceeding with a divorce.

Updated: 07:35PM Mon, 13 Mar 2006

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