The institution of marriage is considered sacred in Indian society. Values and traditions are attached to marriage in India and are protected through legislation such as the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Other legislations related to marriage also attempt to maintain the sanctity of marriage and ensure its validity. Generally, the marriage laws in India are governed and guided by personal religious laws. However, Acts like the Special Marriage Act of 1954 and the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969 provide a legal framework for interfaith marriages. The Foreign Marriage Act of 1969 has an extra-territorial implementation. The Act allowed Indian citizens outside India to marry non-Indian citizens and have their marriage solemnised under Indian laws. The marriage certificate issued by the Marriage Officer is proof of the validity of marriage.
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History of the Act
Before the enactment of the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969, the marriage of Indian citizens outside India was governed by the provisions of the Special Marriage Act of 1953. However, the Act did not provide for a marriage in which one party is a non-Indian citizen. Therefore, when an Indian married a non-Indian citizen, the validity of the marriage remained ambiguous. This caused problems in matters such as adoption, inheritance. The married person could also not claim other matrimonial benefits such as judicial separation or restitution of conjugal rights.
Emergence of the Foreign Marriage Act
The emergence of the Foreign Marriage Act could be traced to the twenty-third Law Commission Report of 1962. For the first time, the report proposed legislation that could regulate marriages outside India where at least one party is an Indian citizen. The objective of this proposed legislation was to solemnise such marriages and provide matrimonial relief to the parties, in case of disputes.
Parliament considered this report and enacted the Foreign Marriage Act in 1969. The Act entered into force on 31 August 1969.
Apart from the legislature, the Judiciary also played a crucial role in transforming this Act. In the case of Joyce Sumanthi v. Robert Dickson Brodie, the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that a marriage solemnised under Section 18 of the Act is considered a valid marriage as long as one of the parties is an Indian citizen. Therefore, the wife’s petition for maintenance was held maintainable.
Key Features of the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969
The key features of the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969 are as follows:
- The Act provides for the solemnisation and registration of marriage outside India where at least one party to the marriage is an Indian citizen.
- The Act also provides for the registration of a marriage, solemnised under the law of a foreign country, where either party to the marriage is an Indian citizen.
- The Act makes provision for a Marriage Officer responsible for solemnising and registering a marriage outside India.
- The Act requires the Marriage Officer to maintain a book to record marriages outside India. This book is called Marriage Certificate Book.
- The Act lays down the necessary conditions for solemnising a marriage under the provision of this Act.
- The Act has laid down a procedure for solemnising and registering marriage outside India.
- The Act permits any person to object to the solemnisation of marriage outside India.
- The Act gives power to the Marriage Officer to deny solemnising and registration of a marriage if it violates any national laws while solemnising marriage or the principles of Private International Law.
- The Act permits the implementation of provisions of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 in cases of matrimonial relief like divorce.
- The Act defines punishment and penalties for offences including bigamy, false declaration. The Act holds the Marriage Officer liable for knowingly and willingly solemnising a marriage in contravention of the provision of this Act.
Scope of the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969
The Act holds validity beyond the boundaries of India and establishes and governs the procedure of solemnising a marriage outside the geographical limits of India where at least one of the persons is a citizen of India. The Act provides validity to such marriages and also enables married persons to obtain matrimonial reliefs under the Special Marriage Act, such as dissolution of marriage, judicial separation.
Validity of Marriage Under the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969
Under Section 15 of the Act, a marriage is valid in the following cases:
The marriage fulfils the conditions for solemnising marriage prescribed under Section 4 of the Act:
- Monogamy, that is, neither party should have a living spouse at the time of solemnising marriage.
- Sanity, that is, neither party is lunatic or idiotic.
- Legal age of marriage, that is, the bridegroom has completed 21 years of age and the bride has completed 18 years of age.
- Prohibited degree of relationship, that is, the party should not fall within the prohibited degree of relationship. However, this condition does not apply if the customs of either party allow such a relationship.
The Marriage Officer should have duly solemnised the marriage as per the procedure established by the Act.
Registration of Marriage
A marriage of Indian citizens outside India solemnised under any other law than the Foreign Marriage Act could be registered under Section 17 of the Act. Either party to the marriage can apply to the Marriage Officer for their marriage registration. When the Marriage Officer is satisfied that the marriage fulfils the conditions laid down in Section 4, they will register the marriage by issuing a Certificate of Marriage and entering it into the Marriage Certificate Book.
If the marriage Officer refuses to register the marriage, then the party can file an appeal with the Government of India within 30 days. The decision of the Government is binding on the Marriage Officer and the party.
Critical Analysis of the Foreign Marriage Act 1969
The Foreign Marriage Act fills the legislative gaps in the registration and validation of Indian marriage with foreigners. The Act not only provides the procedure for the registration of a foreign marriage but also lays down provisions for matrimonial reliefs through other statutes. The Act sets out a penalty for contravening its provisions. However, these penalties are limited to Indian citizens only.
The duration of solemnising a marriage is too long and the whole process is way too lengthy. The Act does not address issues relating to succession, inheritance by party, and their successors after such marriage.
Problems Faced When Indians Marry Abroad
Some of the common problems faced by Indian citizens who marry outside are as follows:
Desertion by Spouse
One of the major problems in marriage outside India that Indian citizens, especially girls, face is desertion. The husband, after a few years and in some cases within a year, abandons the wife either in India or a foreign country. In some cases, the girl’s passport is taken away by the husband, leaving her stranded in a foreign land. However, this situation is not just limited to girls but even boys, who can find themselves in such a situation.
Dowry has long been a problem in Indian society, and foreign marriages are no exception to it. Pre-and-post-marriage dowry demands force a girl’s parents to pay huge sums of money so that their daughter can have a happy married life. However, these demands keep increasing, and when parents are unable to fulfil them, the girl is ill-treated by her husband and in-laws.
In some cases, women are physically and mentally harassed by their husbands or in-laws or sometimes by both. Most times, women do not report such harassment at the initial stage because of social fear or family pressure, which aggravates this situation and may even lead to the death of the women.
In some incidents, the husband does not give his wife any financial assistance, so she is left with no financial resources to fend for herself. Therefore, in times of emergency or abuse by husband, she has no means to protect herself.
Other than domestic violence, spouses are typically ill-treated by their partner. Such ill treatment includes the use of abusive language, publicly disrespecting, treating the other person as a servant.
Inconsistent Divorce Laws
Divorce-related laws in every country differ considerably. This problem leads to a situation in which the courts in some countries pass ex-parte divorce decrees due to which the wife is unable to claim maintenance under law as the case has already been dismissed.
Marriage is a personal affair between two individuals and two families. However, the government is responsible for regulating the affairs of marriage considering its social significance. Various statutes governing marriage law in India are aimed to provide a legal framework to resolve disputes arising in a marriage. The Foreign Marriage Act focuses on issues that may arise in a marriage between an Indian citizen and a non-Indian citizen.
The Act provided legitimacy to foreign marriages through the registration and issuance of marriage certificates by the marriage officer and covers all marriages irrespective of religion or caste of the parties, thus providing for an inclusive society. The Act has helped Indian citizens marry outside India to validate their marriages. The Act also provides for matrimonial reliefs to the parties and ensures that no party to the marriage is forced to live in an unhealthy relationship against its will.
FAQs on the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969
Why was the Act enacted?
The Foreign Marriage Act was enacted to provide for the registration of marriage by Indian citizens with non-Indian citizens.
What are the conditions for solemnising a marriage under the Act?
The conditions for solemnising a marriage under the Act are as follows
- Legal age of marriage
- Parities not within the prohibited degree of relationship
What is the duty of a Marriage Officer under the Act?
The Marriage Officer is responsible for solemnising a marriage outside India where at least one party is an Indian citizen. The Officer issues a Marriage Certificate on the successful solemnisation of marriage.
What is the punishment for a false declaration to obtain a marriage certificate under the Act?
A person who makes a false declaration to solemnise a marriage and obtain a marriage certificate can be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine.
How can parties avail of matrimonial relief under the Act?
As per Section 18 of the Act, the parties can apply for matrimonial relief under the provisions mentioned in chapters IV, V, VI and VII of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.