Divorce by mutual concent

13-B. Divorce by mutual consent.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act a petition for dissolution of marriage by a decree of divorce may be presented to the District court by both the parties to a marriage together, whether such marriage was solemnised before or after the commencement of the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976, on the ground that they have been living separately for a period of one year or more, that they have not been able to live together and that they have mutually agreed that the marriage should be dissolved.

(2) On the motion of both the parties made not earlier than six months after the date of the presentation of the petition referred to in sub-section (1) and not later than eighteen months after the said date, if the petition is not withdrawn in the meantime, the court shall, on being satisfied, after hearing the parties and after making such inquiry as it thinks fit, that a marriage has been solemnised and that the averments in the petition are true, pass a decree of divorce declaring the marriage to be dissolved with effect from the date of the decree.”

2. Section 13-B of HMA contemplates two stages. The first stage is of Section 13-B(1) that lays down the essential requirements to be fulfilled by the parties as detailed below:

(i) The petition for divorce must be presented to the District Court;

(ii) The said petition must be presented jointly, by both the parties to a marriage whether such a marriage was solemnised before or after the commencement of the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976;

(iii) The parties have been living separately for a period of one year;

(iv) The parties have not been able to live together; and

(v) The parties mutually agreed that the marriage should be dissolved.

3. The second stage is of Section 13-B(2) that relates to the manner in which the court exercises its jurisdiction, provides that both the parties must again appear in the Second Motion before the court. The parties are also required to make a joint motion not less than six months after the date of presentation of the First Motion and not later than 18 months after the said date. The period of waiting ranging from six to eighteen months is intended to give an opportunity to the parties to reflect/renege and if one of the parties does not wish to proceed ahead with the divorce during this period, then divorce cannot be granted. The said principle has been explained by the Supreme Court in  Sureshta Devi v. Om Prakash[2],  as under:

“13. From the analysis of the section, it will be apparent that the filing of the petition with mutual consent does not authorise the court to make a decree for divorce. There is a period of waiting from 6 to 18 months. This interregnum was obviously intended to give time and opportunity to the parties to reflect on their move and seek advice from relations and friends. In this transitional period one of the parties may have a second thought and change the mind not to proceed with the petition. The spouse may not be a party to the joint motion under sub-section (2). There is nothing in the section which prevents such course. The section does not provide that if there is a change of mind it should not be by one party alone, but by both. The High Courts of Bombay and Delhi have proceeded on the ground that the crucial time for giving mutual consent for divorce is the time of filing the petition and not the time when they subsequently move for divorce decree. This approach appears to be untenable. At the time of the petition by mutual consent, the parties are not unaware that their petition does not by itself snap marital ties. They know that they have to take a further step to snap marital ties. Sub-section (2) of Section 13-B is clear on this point. It provides that “on the motion of both the parties. … if the petition is not withdrawn in the meantime, the court shall … pass a decree of divorce …”. What is significant in this provision is that there should also be mutual consent when they move the court with a request to pass a decree of divorce. Secondly, the court shall be satisfied about the bona fides and the consent of the parties. If there is no mutual consent at the time of the enquiry, the court gets no jurisdiction to make a decree for divorce. If the view is otherwise, the court could make an enquiry and pass a divorce decree even at the instance of one of the parties and against the consent of the other. Such a decree cannot be regarded as decree by mutual consent.”

The aforesaid view has been reiterated by the Supreme Court in Hitesh Bhatnagar v. Deepa Bhatnagar[3].

Thus, the object of the cooling-off period is to safeguard both the parties against a hurried decision if there is otherwise a possibility of their differences being reconciled.

4. Now, the issue arises whether this cooling-off period can be waived in law by either of the parties or not. In Krishna Bahadur v. Purna Theatre[4], the Supreme Court inter alia held that a right can be waived by the party for whose benefit certain requirements or conditions had been provided for by a statute subject to the condition that no public interest is involved therein, discussing the principles of waiver as follows:

“10. A right can be waived by the party for whose benefit certain requirements or conditions had been provided for by a statute subject to the condition that no public interest is involved therein. Whenever waiver is pleaded it is for the party pleading the same to show that an agreement waiving the right in consideration of some compromise came into being. Statutory right, however, may also be waived by his conduct.”

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