If a Hindu married couple is separating by mutual consent then they no longer need to wait for six months for getting a separating order from the court. Supreme Court held that marriage between two Hindus can be legally terminated in just a week as the “cooling off” period can be waived off as it is not mandatory. The Apex court clarified that if all the efforts to reunite parties and mediation and conciliation also fails between them then the wait for a six-month period can be done away with.
This ruling was passed by the court after a petition was filed by a couple seeking direction to waive off the cooling off period as they have been living separately for 8 years and they had already settled all issues pertaining to child custody and alimony.The couple made a plea before the Supreme Court that delay in divorce would affect their chances to resettle in life. In the present matter, the court took a stand that delay in proceedings only prolongs subsequent resettlement. Waiving off period can be considered if the parties have been living separately already for a year.
The court said,
“The object of the provision is to enable the parties to dissolve a marriage by consent if the marriage has irretrievably broken down and to enable them to rehabilitate them as per available options. The amendment was inspired by the thought that forcible perpetuation of the status of matrimony between unwilling partners did not serve any purpose. The object of the cooling off period was to safeguard against a hurried decision if there was otherwise the possibility of differences being reconciled.”
The bench comprising of Justice AK Goel and UU Lalit said that the object of the cooling off period is to safeguard against a hurried decision taken by a couple to get separated and to allow them to explore ways to settle their disputes however this could not be made mandatory. As per Section 13B(2) of the Hindu Marriage if both the parties do not change their pleas for divorce in a time period not less than six months and not later than 18 months, then the court pass the decree to declaring the marriage to be dissolved.
The court observed that the period of six months to 18 months provided in section 13B is an interregnum to give time and opportunity for the couple to reflect on their move. This period can be waived off if conciliation fails and parties have genuinely settled their differences pertaining to alimony, custody of the child or any other issues pending between them.
The bench observed,
“The object was not to perpetuate a purposeless marriage or to prolong the agony of the parties when there was no chance of reconciliation. Though every effort has to be made to save a marriage, if there are no chances of reunion and there are chances of fresh rehabilitation, the court should not be powerless in enabling the parties to have a better option.”
The Supreme Court bench after examining all the issues came to the conclusion that Section 13B(2) is mandatory and not a directory. The court held that the cooling off period could be waived off if the court is satisfied that the parties are living separately for more than a year with no chance of reconciliation and a further waiting period would only prolong their agony. The bench held that the parties can file a waiver application just one week after the divorce petition is filed and the court will take a call on the waiving off period.