India is a very large country full of people with diverse religious, communal and spiritual beliefs. Marriage is a sacred contract in the Indian subcontinent. It is considered a pure relation of utmost importance. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 is an Act of Parliament which provides a special form of marriage to the people of India irrespective of their religion or belief. Married under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, marriages are not governed by personal laws. The laws under the Act apply to inter-ethnic and inter-religion marriages.
- The Special Marriage Act, 1954 was brought into effect for three main purposes, and they are as follows –
- In some cases to provide a special form of marriage
- For registration of certain marriages, and
- To provide for the divorce of certain marriages.
- The Act extends to the whole of India and is also applicable to Indian nationals living in a different country. All Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis or Jews can perform marriages under this Act.
- The marriages performed under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 are civil contracts, and there are usually no rites or ceremonies performed.
- The parties are required to file a notice of marriage in the form specified to the Marriage Registrar of the district, wherein at least one party stays for not less than thirty days immediately before the notice of intended marriage.
- After the thirty days notice period has passed, the marriage can be solemnized by the Marriage Registrar unless there has been any objection against it by any person. If there are no objections, the marriage is solemnized at the specified Marriage Office.
- For the marriage to be solemnized, there must be at least three witnesses, and there must be no objection against the marriage of the two parties. The parties to the marriage must not have an existing valid marriage.
- The parties to the marriage must be of legal age, that is, the groom must be at least 21 years old, and the bride must be at least 18 years old. Must be of sound mind and must give valid legal consent for the marriage. They should not be related in a prohibited degree of relationship.
- The Indian Succession Act governs the succession of property of a married person under this Act or customary marriages registered under this Act and their children. However, if the parties to the marriage are Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jainism, the succession of their property will be governed by the Hindu Succession Act.
- In India, marriages can be listed either under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The Hindu Marriage Act is suitable for Hindus, although the Special Marriage Act is suitable for all residents of India, irrespective of their religion, applicable to court marriages.
- The parties cannot petition for divorce in the district court until the period of one year has elapsed from the date of their marriage, as recorded in the marriage books. However, in cases where the court thinks that the petitioner has suffered extraordinary hardship or the defendant has shown extraordinary indifference on his part, a divorce petition will be filed, but if any misrepresentation comes from the petitioner is. Apply for divorce before the expiry of 1 year, if an order is passed, the court may state the order to take effect only after the expiry of 1 year, as mentioned in Section 29 of the Special Marriage Act.
- The Special Marriage Act, 1954, amended under the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976, recognizes the following as grounds for divorce.
- Desertion for two years
- The Respondent is serving a seven-year or more imprisonment sentence under an offence registered in the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Venereal diseases in a communicable form
- Incurable insanity or continuous or intermittent mental disorder, and
- Presumption of death
- Further two specific grounds have been provided for the wife alone, they are –
- The husband is guilty of rape, abusive or superiority for the sole reason for marriage, and
- Cohabitation has not been resumed for a year or longer after the passage of an order of maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
In a survey conducted in 2014, about 5% of Indian marriages are inter-caste marriages. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 has provided relief to the people of different beliefs as the solemnization of their marriage is not governed by personal laws. There is a specific procedure to be followed for the registration of inter-caste marriages.