Marriages in India were once regulated solely by religious regulations depending on the couple’s faith. However, in 1954, the Indian government passed the Special Marriage Act, which allows people of various religious beliefs to marry. The legislation extends not just to inter-religious weddings but also to inter-caste marriages; Indian citizens in other countries may also seek assistance under this Act. Once a couple gets married under this Act, or their previously solemnised marriage is registered under this Act, the marriage is regulated by the rules stated in the Special Marriage Act 1954 itself, rather than the couple’s own religious laws.
The process for judicial weddings in India is regulated by the Special Marriage Act of 1954, as was previously stated. The process that must be followed for judicial weddings in India is outlined below.
Step 1: The first step in obtaining a judicial marriage is to determine your eligibility. If all of the following criteria are fulfilled, one will be considered a candidate for marriage:
- At the time of filing for court marriage, neither party had a surviving spouse.
- Both parties to a marriage are capable of validly consenting to it. They should both be of sound mind, which means that neither party suffers from any mental illness to the degree that it renders them unsuitable for marriage, or suffers from recurring bouts of insanity.
- The groom has reached the age of 21, and the bride has reached the age of 18.
- Both partners are capable of having children.
- The parties do not fit into any of the categories of banned relationships. However, if each party’s customs and traditions accept such a marriage that falls within the degrees of forbidden connections, then such a marriage is legal. The First Schedule of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 contains a list of relationships that fall under the degrees of banned connections.
Step 2: The next step is to submit a ‘Notice of Intended Marriage.’ This notification must be submitted in accordance with the provisions of the Second Schedule to the Special Marriage Act of 1954. The notification must contain specifics and evidence from both parties of their marital status, employment, age, address, permanent abode if the current home is not permanent, and duration of the residency.
The notification must be submitted with the Marriage Officer of the district in which at least one of the parties to the marriage has lived for at least thirty days previous to the date of the notice.
The Marriage Officer is to record such notifications in the Marriage Office’s records, and these records must be maintained available for view (without charge) to anyone who wants to examine them. The notification must also be published/posted in the office.
If neither party permanently lives in the district of the Marriage Officer to whom the notification was given, the same Marriage Officer shall transmit the notice to the Marriage Officer in whose area the party permanently resides.
Step 3: After the publishing of the notice, there is a thirty-day waiting time for a judicial marriage. This is due to the fact that after the provided notice is posted at the Marriage Office, any individual may object to the marriage within thirty days of the notice being posted. However, such an objection may be raised only if the parties seeking to marry violate the eligibility criteria outlined in step one.
If the aforementioned objection is raised, the Marriage Officer must investigate and make a judgement within thirty days of the objection being raised. The planned marriage cannot be celebrated until the Marriage Officer makes a decision.
If the Marriage Officer maintains the objection and the marriage is not solemnised, any of the parties may file an appeal with the District Court that has jurisdiction in the region where the Marriage Office is located. Such an appeal must be submitted within thirty days of the day the denial was issued. If an appeal is filed, the District Court’s judgement will be final and binding, and the Marriage Officer will have no option but to act in line with it.
Step 4: Once the thirty-day mandatory waiting time has passed and no objections have been raised, or if an objection has been raised and a decision has been reached in favour of the parties wanting to marry, the planned marriage may be solemnised.
Step 5: On the day of the marriage, the couple wanting to marry must be accompanied by three witnesses. Before the wedding may take place on the designated day, the couple and their three witnesses must sign a declaration in the presence of the Marriage Officer, who will then countersign it. Marriage ceremonies do not have to take place at the Marriage Officer’s office. It may be held (with the permission of the Marriage Officer) at any other location the couples choose, as long as it is within a reasonable distance of the office.
The marriage can take any form the parties choose, but it will not be complete and binding unless each party says to the other (in any language of their choice) “I____, take ____, to be my lawful Wife/Husband.” This sentence should be uttered in the presence of the Marriage Officer and the three witnesses.
Step 6: After the marriage has been solemnised, the Marriage Officer will record a certificate of the marriage in the Marriage Certificate Book. The wedded couple, their three witnesses, and the Marriage Officer must all sign this marriage certificate. In India, this marriage certificate is definitive proof of a judicial marriage.
If the planned marriage is not solemnised within three calendar months after the day the marriage notice was issued, the marriage procedures will be considered to have expired. If the same parties want to marry again, a new notification must be issued. In cases where the Marriage Officer prevented the parties from marrying, resulting in an appeal filed by the parties intending to marry and the decision of such an appeal being given in favour of the parties by the district court, the three-month period will be calculated from the date such decision was pronounced.
Other significant issues of judicial weddings in India, depending on the general concerns of the parties planning to marry, are as follows:
- The total number of marriage forms that the people wanting to marry must fill out is two. The first is the one that is sent as a notification of the impending marriage. The second is a statement that must be signed before the marriage may be solemnised.
- The entire duration of a court marriage must be considered from two viewpoints. In one scenario, if no objections are raised, the Court marriage may be performed immediately after the mandatory waiting time of thirty days has expired. The other case is one in which an objection has been raised. Marriage procedures in certain instances may take up to sixty days.
- As long as the couple wanting to marry meets the eligibility requirements (as stated in Step 1), no permission from their family or relatives is needed to engage in a marriage under the Special Marriage Act 1954.
- The Court Marriage fee in India varies by state, but in general, the price paid is not particularly expensive, but rather very basic.
In India, a list of papers is needed for court marriages:
The papers needed by the bride and groom are listed below;
- Both partners’ ages must be verified (birth certificate/matriculation certificate/passport).
- Both parties’ residential evidence (passport/voter id/electricity or landline telephone bill in the parties’ names/ration card)
- Receipt of payments for the application form and additional marriage expenses.
- If applying from a location other than the applicant’s permanent address, but where one of the parties has been living for more than a month, residential evidence (Ration card/report from Station House Officer) is needed.
- Affidavits from both parties stating the date of birth and current marital status (unmarried/divorced/widowed).
- Confirmation that the parties are not in degrees of forbidden connection to one other.
- Both parties must provide two passport-sized photos.
- Divorce Decree Certificate Divorce Decree Certificate Divorce Decree Certificate Divorce Decree Certificate Divorce Decree Certificate.
- In the event of widows and widowers, the deceased’s Municipal Death Certificate
All of the papers listed above must have one original and one verified Xerox copy. In the event of an online process, applicants should additionally retain scanned copies of the documents.
The following papers must be brought by the marriage parties’ witnesses:
- The Ration Card
- Identifying Documents (if any)
- Voter Identification
- Driver’s License (if any)
Amendments to the Special Marriage Act of 1954
A pair of new case laws have, in some ways, started the ball rolling for changes to the Special Marriage Act of 1954 (SMA), the first of which is Nandini Parveen v. Union of India. A writ petition filed by a law student from Kerala is pending before the Supreme Court in the aforementioned matter. The case of Nandini contends that the publishing of a marriage notice including the couple’s personal information, as required by Section 6 (2) of the SMA, violates the right to privacy and is therefore unconstitutional. On August 24, 2017, the Supreme Court issued a major decision in the case of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. v. Union of India and Others, in which it was ruled that the right to privacy is a basic right in India.
Chief Justice Bobde voiced concerns about the plea, stating that publishing was necessary because what if someone ran away with someone else’s wife or daughter? However, Nandini’s counsel claimed that the issue at hand is not the Marriage Officer’s enquiries, but the publishing of the notification in the public domain. He further said that the primary objective of this Act was to allow weddings between individuals of different faiths or castes, but with this clause in the Act that compulsorily publishes personal information of a couple, crimes such as honour murders are made feasible. The appeal also said that publishing the couple’s personal information served no legitimate State purpose. After hearing all of these points, the court issued a notice to the federal government, requesting a response, and so this case may make changes to the Special Marriage Act, 1954 feasible in the near future.
Independent Thought v. Union of India is the second lawsuit that may result in another modification to the Special Marriage Act. The Supreme Court was asked to rule on the validity and constitutionality of Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code in this case (IPC). This exemption said that ‘sexual intercourse or sexual actions by a man with his wife, if the woman is not under the age of fifteen, is not rape.’ According to the decision, in this case, Exception 2 to Section 375 IPC as it relates to a girl child under the age of 18 years is liable to be struck down because it is arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, and violative of a girl child’s rights, as well as not fair, just, and reasonable, and thus violates Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The decision, in this case, is believed to have sparked the government’s initiative to alter the legal age of marriage for women in order to reduce maternal and newborn mortality rates. Increased legal marriage age for women will also contribute to population control as reproductive years would naturally decrease. The necessity for equality in the legal marriage age of men and women is widely recognised, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed this in his Independence Day address. He went on to say that “a committee has been established to guarantee that the girls are no longer malnourished and are married off at the proper age, and as soon as the report is completed, suitable choices regarding the age of marriage of daughters will be made.”
Based on the above facts, it is safe to assume that if the age of marriage for females in India is reconsidered, Section 4 clause C of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 would be amended as well.
Written by Somesh Vaidya