Marriages and Divorce in India

Marriage is an institution wherein two individuals agree to co-habit and possibly also procreate. Marriage is a civil contract that governs the cohabitation of a male and a female. Over the course of centuries, marriages in India have had lots of customs and traditions. A few among them being “Swayamwara” where the girl chooses her own husband, and the system of dowry. Traditionally, marriages couldn’t be dissolved no matter what the circumstances. Marriage was a “bond that was not broken even by the husband’s death”. India has had its fair share of inhuman customs related to marriage, such as Sati, or self-immolation.

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

In modern times, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 governs all Hindu marriages and divorces in India. The Act lays down certain conditions for two people to get married-

  1. Neither of the two must have a living spouse at the time of marriage.
  2. Both parties involved are legally sane and by extension, not lunatic.
  3. Originally, the Act specified the minimum age of marriage as 18 years for the groom and 15 years for the bride. However, now the legal age for marriage is 21 years for the groom and 18 years for the bride.
  4. The parties involved cannot be within degrees of prohibited kinship. This includes blood relations and relations through marital alliance. However, there are exceptions, according to customs.
  5. The parties are not “sapindas” of each other, except in cases where it is allowed by customs and traditions.

Divorce Procedures & options in India

Marriages are made in heaven. But, not all marriages last forever. Due to some personal differences or other reasons, the couple might drift apart from each other. Divorce can be defined as the legal dissolution of marriage. However, traditionally a marriage was considered to be “an inseparable bond” and dissolution of marriage was practically impossible. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 also deals with divorce.

Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act regulates divorces among Hindus in India. The Act grants couples the right to separate if any of the following conditions are satisfied-

  1. The other party partakes in adultery.
  2. The other party in marriage is no longer a Hindu, due to conversion to another religion.
  3. The other party has been declared insane and it is not reasonable for both parties to co-habit.
  4. The other party has been suffering from incurable leprosy for at least three years.
  5. The other party has venereal and communicable disease.
  6. The other party has not been heard of as being alive, for at least seven years.
  7. The couple has not resumed living together after two or more years, after decree of judicial separation has been passed.
  8. The other party has renounced worldly affairs for religious purposes.

Apart from the above-mentioned provisions which can be used by both men and women, there are a few provisions that are reserved for women exclusively-

  1. The wife can also file for divorce if the husband has remarried or already has a living spouse.
  2. The husband is guilty of rape, sodomy, etc.

The Bottom Line:

Separation and divorce stem from feelings that cohabitation is difficult on an emotional and/or physical level. There is still a lot of social stigma in India about divorce and separation. The first step that a couple needs to take, is to accept that the marriage is over. If a marriage doesn’t yield happiness, it is the right of both parties to file for a divorce.