Marriage is the union of two people—husband and wife, accepted and acknowledged by society and religion. Marriage is a religious rite that is described as a contract between a man and a woman to live life together as husband and wife.
Marriage is also a legal status in India under several personal laws, such as the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936, and the Indian Christian Marriage Act of 1872.
For marriages not covered under the previous laws and interfaith marriages, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 was promulgated. Marriage is a contract under Islamic law.
A nullity of marriage is a legal statement made by a court that no marriage occurred between two persons and that the marriage was invalid. This is a proclamation implying the marriage never occurred.
Though marriage is a sacred union for life, there are numerous legal reasons for the dissolution of marriage, or nullification of the marriage, owing to certain complexity and projected growth in modern society.
This article will specifically talk about the Nullity of Marriage under Hindu Law.
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Difference Between Nullity of Marriage, Divorce, and Judicial Separation
The nullity of marriage, as previously stated, is a legal statement that no marriage existed. It establishes the legality of the union performed, which signifies that no open marriage existed between the couple.
When a marriage is legally dissolved, it is called a divorce. Divorce is a statement made on the petition of the marriage’s parties, which resulted in the dissolution of a legitimate marriage. A divorce does not doubt the legitimacy of marriage, but it will end the marriage. Divorce is more permanent than nullity or judicial separation.
A judicial separation is legally announced when the parties request that they live apart under marriage status. Judicial separation is neither the end of marriage nor calls the wedding into doubt, and duties and obligations for both parties remain the same after judicial separation.
Nullity of Marriage Under Hindu law in India
Hindu laws were formulated based on ancient and current sources. Shruti, Smriti, Digests and Commentaries, and Customs are some of the oldest sources pertaining to marriage and matrimony. Modern sources include Justice, Equity, Good Conscience and Precedent, and Legislation.
Marriage was previously irreversible, and religious and spiritual responsibilities were required. Ending or nullifying a marriage under Hindu personal law did not exist before the parliamentary statute as marriage was viewed as sacred matrimony for the rest of one’s life.
Grounds for nullification of marriage
The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 stipulates that some critical conditions laid down by the Hindu Marriage act must be fulfilled for solemnising any marriage. On failing to meet these conditions, the concerned or afflicted party can initiate annulment.
Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, specifies the grounds for the nullification of marriage:
- At the time of the wedding, one of the spouses was already married to another person,
- If one of the spouses is beneath the legal age to marry, or if the other is too young to marry without judicial or parental authorisation
- One of the spouses was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the marriage
- One of the spouses was mentally disabled at the marriage due to a mental disease
- A marriage is nullified if one of the spouses’ consent were obtained by coercion, deception
- One spouse cannot have sexual relations during marriage if they are physically incapable of doing so
- Parties should not be under the prohibited degree of consanguinity. The presence of a blood kinship or a shared lineal ancestor between the two respective parties is referred to as the ‘prohibited degree of consanguinity’.
- If one of the spouses is incarcerated and condemned to life in prison, they cannot marry.
- If any material truth is hidden and that fact has the potential to jeopardise the integrity of a marriage, such as one of the partners concealing a drug addiction, a past criminal record, or the presence of a sexually transmitted illness.
Grounds for a voidable marriage
Few marriages, known as voidable marriages, are legitimate until pronounced null and void. A nullity decree issued under Section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, annuls a voidable marriage. It is entirely up to the partners in voidable marriages to prolong the wedding or to have it repealed by judicial order.
The following are the grounds for a voidable marriage:
- If one of the spouses is impotent
- In the event of a party’s inability to give legitimate permission, compelled consent, mental illness, or a person unsuited for childbearing
- Marriage of a minor
- The responder was made pregnant by somebody when they were married.
Procedure for obtaining a decree of nullity marriage
The process for getting a decree of nullity of marriage is essentially the same in every personal law.
- The petition is brought to the court (concerned courts under various personal laws: under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 and the Special Marriage Act of 1954, a family court or a municipal civil court decides over the subject)
Under Muslim law, matters are settled by Islamic practice rather than by the courts.
- The court’s jurisdiction in question determines the defendant or respondent’s residence.
- The court issues a notice to the respondent or defendant to appear in court and respond.
- Following a hearing and evidence, the court grants the requested remedy.
Consequences of nullity of marriage
Nullity of marriage is a statement that no marriage existed and that the parties are no longer husband and wife.
On making a judgement for nullity of marriage, the court also decides on the amount of maintenance to the opposing party, monthly, annually, or a lump sum. Children born from this marriage are considered genuine, and they are allowed to marry anyone they choose.
The declaration of nullity of marriage affirms no marriage status between two people. Marriages that are declared null and invalid have no legal standing, and they are illegal and not legally enforceable.
Rights of Legitimate Child
In the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, Section 16 protects the rights and validity of children born from void marriages, stipulating that children born from the void and voidable marriages are ‘legitimate children’.
The act states the following:
- Children born from a null and invalid marriage under Section 11 of the act are legal regardless of the marriage nullity.
- Offspring born from a marriage ruled ‘voidable’ under Section 12 of the act are lawful children regardless of the nullity ruling.
- Offspring born from a void or voidable marriage should be handled in the same manner as other lawful children. Furthermore, they have the right to an equal part in the parents’ property exclusively, not from other related families.
In Laxmibai vs Limbabai, the Bombay High Court recognised the rights of children born from a void marriage as legitimate children. The court accepted that the child’s position in such marriages was legal, primarily for the welfare of the children. It also grants the kid rights to the property of the parents.
India is a multicultural country with different religions and traditions. Each religion has its unique marriage laws. Marriage is a sacred religious ceremony in India. Marriage should be done without coercion and for the sake of family continuity in all religions. The grounds for nullity of marriage are the same in India. Marriage nullity frees a person from a marriage that has become a burden. The reasons for the nullity of marriage are likewise legal, as are religious considerations.
What is maintenance under the nullity of marriage?
When a court deems a marriage null and void based on a petition, it determines the amount of maintenance to be paid to the opposing party, either in a lump sum, annually, or monthly.
What are the various conditions needed to satisfy a petition under Section 12 to make the voidable marriage void?
- A petition can be brought before the court on the plea of marriage by force or fraud within a year of discovering a fraud or coercion.
- The petitioner is unaware of the charge upon which the petition is based at the moment of solemnising the marriage.
- The petition must be filed within a year after learning the facts that are the subject of the accusation.
- After learning about the purported facts, no sexual contact is formed.
What are the various grounds for the nullification of the Hindu Marriage?
- Bigamy or spouse reveals that either the wife or husband had previously been married at the time of marriage.
- The wife's or husband's mental incapacity
- Consent acquired by deception
- Consent acquired by coercion
- Any of the partners may be imprisoned for the rest of their lives.
- Impotent men or women
- Marriage between relatives
- Wife's pregnancy at the time of marriage
Which act deals with the right of children under nullified marriages?
Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 deals with the legal status of the offspring of a void and voidable marriage.