Court marriage is the form of civil ceremony through which persons of different religions, castes, nationality or creed looking to avoid the traditional marriage ceremonies to tie the knot. Court marriage is a simple procedure that is carried out in the presence of a marriage registrar and some witnesses.
The law governing court marriages is not the Hindu Marriages Act, 1955 or any other religious law, but it is governed by India’s secular marriage law, Special Marriage Act, 1954.
Required conditions for Court Marriage
Section 4 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 lays down the required conditions for a court marriage to be a valid marriage. These conditions are:
• Neither of the two people who are getting married should have a living spouse at the time of marriage.
• The couple should be of the legal age of marriage i.e. the girl should be above the age of 18 years of age and the boy should be above 21 years of age.
• Both the parties should be capable of giving valid consent and should also be of sound mind.
• If the person is capable of giving valid consent but is also suffering from a mental condition, the mental condition should be so severe that the person can be considered as unfit for marriage and also unfit for procreating.
• The person should not have a history of recurrent bouts of epilepsy or insanity.
• The relationship between the couple should not fall within the prohibited degrees of relationship. With respect to degrees of prohibited relationships, Section 4 does make some special consideration regarding customary practices of communities. It says that even if the relationship between the couple falls within the degrees of prohibited relationships, their marriage can still be held valid if the community of one of the parties allows for such relationship by custom. However, it must be noted that one cannot simply e any custom in order to validate a relationship. The custom should have been notified by the State government by publishing it in the Official Gazette as being applicable to that community’s member.
What qualifies as a custom?
The state government goes through a three-point checklist to determine whether a practice can be considered a legitimate custom or not. The three criteria are:
1. That practice should have been carried out uniformly and continuously over a long period of time;
2. The practice does not go against public policy and is not unreasonable;
3. The family which wants to marry using this customs should not have discontinued the practice.
What is the Court Marriage Procedure?
There are six stages of a court marriage that have been detailed below.
Stage 1: Notice of intended marriage
To initiate the court marriage procedure, the couple that intends to get married has to send a written notice to the Marriage Officer. The format of the notice has been given in the Second Schedule of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The notice has to be sent to the Marriage Officer who has jurisdiction over the area where at least one of the parties to the marriage has been residing for at least 30 days before the date on which the notice is being given.
The bride and the groom have to fill and sign the marriage application form. The form should be submitted accompanies with the following documents:
• Documents supporting proof of the age of both the bride and groom like their birth certificates, passports, matriculation certificates etc.
• Two passports sized photographs each of the bride and the groom that have been attested by a Gazetted Officer.
• Receipts of the application fee paid for the marriage application form to the District Court.
• Documents supporting the fact that at least one of the parties has resided in that particular city for at least 30 days. This can be done by submitting copies of the ration card or obtaining a report from the Station House Officer.
• If the bride or the groom or both are divorcees then a copy of the divorce order has to be submitted as well. If the spouse is a widow or widower then the death certificate of the deceased spouse has to be attached.
• The bride and the groom also have to submit separate affidavits for the following information:
- Their current marital status, indicating whether they are unmarried, divorced or widowed.
- Their date of birth.
- They also have to provide affirmations that their relationship does not fall within the prohibited degrees of relationship under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
Stage 2: Notice publication
After the marriage notice is filed with the Marriage Officer, the Marriage Officer will publish the notice. The notice should be put up in a conspicuous place where it will be clearly visible. In case the married couple does not permanently reside in the area of the Marriage Officer that is overseeing the process, then the Officer will deliver a copy of the marriage notice to the Marriage Office of the district within which the parties do have a permanent residence address. This copy of the notice will then be put up in a conspicuous place in that district. The Marriage Officer also maintains a Marriage Notice Book where all the original/ true copies of the documents are stored.
Step 3: Objection to marriage
The third state of a court marriage process entails the hearing of any objections to the marriage. Objections to the marriage of the couple can be raised by any person before the Marriage Officer of the concerned district. Objections should be submitted within 30 days from the date of publication of the marriage notice. These objections are recorded in the Marriage Notice Book. However, objections can only be raised on the basis of the criteria for marriage listed in Section 4 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
Grounds for objection to marriage consist of:
• The bride or groom is not of the legal age of marriage.
• Either of the parties already has a living spouse.
• Either party is mentally unfit to give consent to the marriage or procreate.
• The relationship between the parties falls within the prohibited degrees of marriage.
• There is no custom that has been notified by the state government which validates the marriage within prohibited degrees of relationship.
Once the Marriage Officer receives objections to the marriage, the Officer enquires into the objections within a time period of 30 days. If the Marriage Officer finds that the objections do not hold their ground, then the Marriage Officer will proceed with the solemnization of the marriage. However, if the objections are found to be valid, then marriage cannot be solemnized. The remedy available to the couple in the event that their marriage cannot be solemnized is that either of the two can appeal the decision of the Marriage Officer with the District Court which has jurisdiction over the area where the Marriage Officer’s office is located. The appeal should be filed within a time period of 30 days from the time the Marriage Officer refuses to solemnize the marriage. If the Marriage Officer does not receive any objections to the marriage then the marriage can be solemnized.
Stage 4: Declaration
A declaration form must be signed by the bride and groom along with three witnesses before a marriage can be solemnized. The declaration form is given in the Third Schedule of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Once all the parties have signed the declaration, it will be countersigned by the Marriage Officer.
The following documents must be attached to the declaration form:
• A passport sized photo of all the witnesses.
• Identification proof of all the witnesses like the PAN card or the driving license.
Stage 5: Solemnisation
A court marriage can be solemnized either in the Marriage Officer’s office or any other place provided that it is within a reasonable distance from the office of the Marriage Officer.
Moreover, the solemnization of marriage can be performed in any form that the parties may like. But if the marriage can only binding if the following three conditions are met:
• The Marriage Officer should be present at the time of solemnization.
• The event should be conducted in the presence of three witnesses.
• The following words should be exchanged between the marrying couple in the presence of the two above mentioned parties, in a language that is understood by them: "I, (A), take thee (B), to be my lawful wife (or husband)".
Stage 6: Certificate of Marriage
Once a marriage has been successfully solemnized, the Marriage Officer issues the certificate of marriage as given in Schedule IV of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The marriage certificate is signed by the married couple and also the witnesses to the marriage. The marriage certificate is the conclusive proof of marriage.
Marriage to a foreign national
The Special Marriage Act, 1954 allows people to marry foreign nationals through the court marriage procedure. Such marriages can be solemnised before the Marriage Registrar in India or even with the Marriage Officer in the foreign country. However, some additional paperwork is required for solemnisation of marriages to foreigners:
• A copy of the visa (which should be a valid visa).
• Copy of the passports of both the parties that wish to get married.
• Documents proving that either of the party has resided in the concerned district for a minimum of 30 days or a statement from the Station House Officer.
• A Marital Status Certificate or a No Objection Certificate from the foreign embassy of the other party or from the Indian consulate, if required by the foreign party.
Do you require a lawyer in a Court Marriage process?
A lawyer is not necessarily required to undergo a court marriage procedure. However, legal assistance would be desirable in cases of any inquiries or issues. Moreover, a lawyer would be helpful in correctly filling in the information in the necessary forms and submitting the correct documents. Moreover, a lawyer’s assistance would be of use on the occasion if any objections to the marriage are raised as appealing the decision and arguing for the case will require legal knowledge.
Are there any drawbacks to a court marriage?
Court marriages are relatively simpler, less time consuming and not as expensive as a regular religious marriage ceremony. However, it does have its own set of drawbacks that are listed below:
• The Marriage Officer determines the date for solemnization of marriage. This means that the marriage cannot be solemnized before the date set by the Marriage Officer even in case of emergencies. Apart from this, there is also the waiting period of 30 days from the date of publication of marriage notice.
• The solemnization of marriage can also take a long time if the objection raised against the marriage is upheld by the Marriage Officer. In such a case, the parties will first have to wait for the Marriage Officer to conduct his or her investigation and then proceed onto the appeal stage that takes more time.
• The process of court marriage is for the most part not available online. This means that the parties will have to take out time to make rounds of the marriage office.
• Court marriage requires that either of the parties is residing in one place for a minimum amount of 30 days in order to be able to initiate the court marriage procedure in that district. This retrains the freedom of a couple to decide which place would like to get their marriage solemnized.
• The cost of court marriage differs in every state.
• In case the marriage is not carried out within three months from the date the marriage notice was given, then it is deemed that the marriage notice has lapsed. This means that new notice has to be filed with the Marriage Officer and the process needs to be started again.
• A court marriage may also result in the removal of the parties from the Hindu Undivided Family and therefore affect the succession and devolution of property for that family.