Why do we have Family Laws?

Family Laws encompass the broad set of rules that are in practice regarding family matters, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance etc. There are some legally enforceable rights and duties that arise when one gives legal validation to the status of interpersonal relationships.

The justification for having laws that affect the most private aspects of our life is to ensure protection of individual rights and to uphold certain norms that are essential to human dignity. Another reason is that laws act as agents of social change and may succeed in improving the status of individuals in society.


Hindu Law

A Hindu marriage is treated as a sacrament and not a contract. For a Hindu marriage to have legal validity, it must mandatorily be registered under the Hindu Marriage Act. There are some other conditions that must be fulfilled for a Hindu marriage for being legally valid. If a marriage is not legally valid, or contravenes certain grave aspects of the law which are specified in the Act, the marriage is automatically null and void and annulment can be granted to it. There are also some marriages that are voidable at the option of either party to the marriage.

  1. The bridegroom must be at least 21 years of age, and the bride must have attained the age of 18 years. However, if the couple or either the boy or girl have not attained the minimum required age for marriage and yet get married, it is not void. The marriage is voidable at the option of either party.


  1. Another aspect of a valid marriage is that close family relations in the ‘uterine’ or consanguine lineage are said to be within degrees of prohibited relationship and the match should not fall within the prohibited degrees.

Under Hindu law, the ‘degrees of prohibited relationship’ refers to the proximity of the two individuals through their lineal ascendants and the law states that a match may not be made within those degrees.

Laws Governing Matrimonial Disputes

The disputes that take place between the married couple, relating to issues that arise out of the practices and customs of marriage, are known as matrimonial disputes. These issues include withdrawal from the other’s society without reasonable cause, mental illness at the time of marriage, desertion of the spouse for a continuous period of 2 years etc., which result in different remedies, such as restitution of conjugal rights, annulment or divorce.

There are many types of reliefs available to couples suffering from matrimonial problems, which include restitution of conjugal rights, judicial separation etc.

  1. Restitution of Conjugal Rights

If either spouse has, without reasonable cause, withdrawn from the society of the other, the aggrieved spouse can approach the court for restitution of conjugal rights. This enforces the rights that derive from the wedded state of the couple. The court would expect the explanation of the defence of ‘reasonable cause’ from the defendant.

  1. Annulment

When either spouse makes an application to nullify the marriage, certain grounds have to exist. It is a procedure by which a marriage is nullified in that it is declared to have never existed at all. It is usually difficult to prove and not many cases have granted annulment as a remedy. However, it covers a range of situations, such as:

  1. Either party was already married to someone at the time of marriage
  2. The parties are not Sapindas of each other
  3. The parties are not within the degrees of prohibited relationship
    1. Dissolution

Before the codification of Hindu marriage laws, the position on dissolution of marriages was very rigid and did not allow dissolution except under certain specified grounds. However, after independence, the law provided for a few grounds on which a marriage could be legally dissolved. The procedure for doing so is known as a divorce.

A case for Judicial Separation would look into grounds of a similar nature to that of a case for divorce. But legal separation only entails physical separation for some time and does not change the married status of the parties. This is not the case with a divorce, where if a couple gets divorced, and intend to get back together, they must remarry.


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