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Overview of the special marriage act, 1954

SYNOPSIS

This Paper aims to provide an in-depth analysis of Special Marriage Act of 1954 which is one of India’s attempts towards a Secular and one size fits all rule in the realm of personal laws. In this paper, all the important Sections as well as provisions have been highlighted with the aim of providing an in depth analysis of the law. The Act contains in it 51 Sections providing in detail every aspect of the legality of marriages as well as the rights and duties that a party is bound by upon being married under this law such as succession, divorce among others.

The act mainly focuses on providing for marriage, registration of such marriages, as well as divorce in rare circumstances where personal laws of the person fail to achieve the objective of marriage. This paper dwells into case laws as well as provides an overview of the entire Act, highlighting the important principles that are to be followed in order to understand the law in its entirety.

INTRODUCTION

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 played a major role in the development of the thought process of the citizens by creating a law which truly does not look at one’s caste, religion, belief system in the area of law which is dominated by statutes and legislations which have such a bias. By providing for inter-caste and inter-religion marriages the notion of singularity was bought forward by the law where choice prevailed over all, and the diverse culture of India accommodated for the same.

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 was introduced in order to secularize the personal law matters of marriage and the related concepts of the same. The Act provides in detail provisions for marriages of citizens belonging to different religions, castes or non-believers. The registration therefore takes place without recognition as to the religion that the marrying parties follow. The Act applies to all those citizens of India who reside in the country, and does not differentiate on the basis of the religion Hindu Marriage Act, Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act or others. Further, even citizens of the country who reside outside (NRIs) can be brought under the purview of this Act.

ANALYSIS OF PROVISIONS

For a valid marriage under this Act, the consent of the parties is of utmost importance. The parties must file for the same in the District Magistrate where either of the parties to the marriage has lived for at least 30 days prior to such notice being filed, as under Section 5 of the Act. The marriage is then solemnized, with consent upon the completion of a 30 day time period which is a buffer time, after which the marriage is solemnized. If the marriage is not solemnized within a period of 3 months from the date of such notice, the time will be deemed to have lapsed and a new notice must be served.

The marriage is then solemnized after the parties successfully provide consent, without any objection (Section 7) and the signatures of three witnesses (Section 11) to the marriage before the marriage officer as well as the satisfaction of all the conditions provided under Section 4.  These include, that neither party can have a spouse who is living and has a valid marriage with one of the parties, incapable of providing valid consent and are not within the prohibited degrees of relationship with each other. Upon the valid registration and marriage, the parties are provided with a Certificate of Marriage and the same is entered into the Marriage Certificate Book, which is the final conclusive evidence of a valid marriage under Section 13 of the Act. It was held in the case of, Vahab v. Hadiya Firdouse 2013 that the validity of registration and marriage must be proven by the party claiming the same.

However, the Marriage shall be deemed to be void or null if Section 4 of the Act has not been satisfied or due to impotency. The marriages shall also be held voidable if either-party has refused to consummate, the respondent was pregnant at the time of marriage with someone else or the consent obtained for the marriage is not agreeable as per Section 24 and 25 of the Act. In the case of Sunil K. Mirchandani v Reena Mirchandani, the Court held that there is no valid ground for annulment of voidable marriage if there is an indication of satisfaction regarding the sexual relationship they share.

The children born out of such marriage will be deemed to be legitimate and this Act confers to such children any rights in the property of the parents, and the succession rights of the persons will not be affected by the marriage and will remain the same as under Section 20. Such rights arising out a marriage under this Act are governed by the Indian Succession Act as given the case of Bilquis Zakiuddin Bandookwala v. Shehnaz Shabbir Bandukwala, 2010.

Divorce in the marriages under this Act include various reasons ranging from sodomy, venereal disease, adultery, cruelty among various other factors as stated under Section 27 and also provides for Judicial Separation (Section 27A) or divorce by mutual consent (Section 28).

In this aspect the case of G v.G, 1930 plays an important role as the case held that the husband is not liable for desertion if he is forced to live away due to work and no other reasonable cause. Further, in the case of Dawn Henderson v. D Henderson, 1970 an important aspect was reiterated by the Court with regard to adultery stating that a single act of adultery is an adequate ground for divorce under this Act unlike in HMA there must be proof of “living in adultery”.

The Act further in this context deals with the Alimony, remarriage of the parties, custody and such matters which from due part in the process of divorce. In the case of S.Garg v. K.M. Garg, 1978 the court held that the woman can take up employment and cannot be forced to live with heer husband only. Penalties and Punishment for bigamy or false declaration and wrongful action of a marriage officer has also been integrated into the body of the Act.

CONCLUSION

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is the only secular personal law in India other than the Guardians and Wards Act. This Act aims at providing a uniform law of marriage across all boards and does not distinguish citizens in the matter of the “holy union” of two people. The concept of inter-caste marriages and inter-religious marriages found certain backing and support after the enactment of this law which provides for a wide ambit of provisions which aim at completely covering all aspects of marriage which one may deem important during the course of marriage and hurdles in the same. In understanding the law it is also important to understand that the Act is different from the Hindu Marriage Act which is the most prevalent law for marriage in the country.

The Hindu Marriage Act specifically caters only to the Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists whereas the Special Marriage Act covers under its purview, all citizens of the country. The laws also have procedural differences with regard to solemnization and registration of marriage as well as minute changes such as the ones as seen in the case of Dawn Henderson v. D Henderson, 1970 above. It is to be noted that in case of conflict, the specific law prevails over the general law, i.e. the Hindu Marriage Act prevails over the Special Marriage Act of 1954. In conclusion, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 which proved as the need of the hour during the time of its enactment still persists to be an important facet of the personal laws as well as secular laws in India.

 

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