INDIAN CHRISTIANS and MATRIMONIAL LAWS
Through this article I have made a humble effort to apprise Christian people about matrimonial laws applicable to them.
Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872 was enacted in the year 1872 much prior from our independence and contains legal provisions regarding solemnization of valid marriage, in accordance to law, between person/s professing Christian religion in India.
As per this Act “Christian” means person professing Christian religion and “Indian Christian” includes Christian descendents of natives of India converted to Christianity, as well as such converts.
Part-I of the Act deals with provision relating to the competency of person who solemnize the marriage. The person is said to be competent to solemnize Christian marriage, if he fulfills any of following requirements as embodied in section 5 of the Act:
- by any person who has received Episcopal ordination, provided that the marriage be solemnized according to the rules, rites, ceremonies and customs of the Church of which he is a Minister;
- by any Minister of Religion licensed under this Act to solemnize marriages;
- by, or in the presence of, a Marriage Registrar appointed under this Act;
- by any person licensed under this Act to grant certificates of marriage between Indian Christians.
It will be pertinent to mention here that any marriage, if, solemnized by incompetent or unauthorized person, the same shall be void marriage or had no legal sanctity.
The Act also states the “time and place at which marriages may be solemnized”. Generally, marriage must be solemnized between 6.00 a.m. in the morning and 7.00 p.m. in the evening and place of marriage is Church. However, the time and place of marriage is flexible, in case, where Special License for solemnization of marriage is granted to Clergy of the Church in this regard.
The Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872 in section 60 also lay down conditions, to be fulfilled by the person intending to marry in accordance to Christian rites and rituals. The conditions are:
- The age of intending groom should not be less than 21 years and that of bride should not be less than 18 years.
- Neither person intending to be married shall have a wife or husband alive at the time of solemnization of marriage.
- The marriage should be solemnized by duly competent person as stated in above paragraph, in the presence of atleast two witnesses and each party shall say to other:
“I call upon these persons present to witness that I “A” In the presence of Almighty God and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, do take thee “B” to be my lawful wedded wife or husband” or words to like effect.
It will be worth mentioning here that, if, any marriage is solemnized in contravention of provisions of this Act by any person without having authority to solemnize the marriage, or solemnize the marriage at any other place except Church, in violation of requisite time as prescribed under the Act, without obtaining Special License and in absence of credible witnesses, than such an lapse is punishable under the aforesaid Act. Also any false declaration or signing of certificate by any person, in the solemnization of marriage is offence punishable under the Act. The punishment for committing any of above offence shall be imprisonment and fine.
After solemnization of marriage, it is anticipated that now the married couple will live happily ever after in their matrimonial home. But with changing social norms and social set up, apparently, many married couples find it hard to pull on their respective matrimonial life. At that immensely sad juncture, estranged spouses must know as to what legal recourses are available to them to settle their dispute or discord Under such circumstances, I refer to ‘The Divorce Act 1869’ for law relating to recourse available to parties in the eventuality of matrimonial discord.
The Divorce Act 1869, prior to 2001 was known as The Indian Divorce Act 1869. It contains law relating to matrimonial disputes. The Indian Divorce Act prior to its amendment embodied the grounds for divorce in section 10 and the said grounds were discriminatory in respect of husband and wife. The procedural requirement of obtaining confirmation of decree from concerned High Court for decree of dissolution and decree of nullity of marriage, used to add agony and pain to the litigating spouses as this procedural requirement was time consuming and tiresome.
In 2001, the 132 years old law applicable to Indian Christian was amended by Amendment Act of 2001 wherein men and women were given same right for annulment of marriage and divorce. This amended Act was named as “The Divorce Act 1869” .This amended act was based on the lines of Hindu Act applicable in matrimonial disputes relating to person professing Hindu religion. The special feature of this amended Act was that, it contains provision for Dissolution of marriage by mutual consent. And all the discrimination which was there in earlier Act in respect of matrimonial law available to men and women were repealed. Not only that, the amended Act also removed procedural requirement of confirmation of decree of dissolution and decree of nullity of marriage by concerned High Court after passing of the same by district court. In short, the amended Act has removed discriminatory provisions and procedural requirements which were in the earlier act, in order to remove the hardship faced by Christian litigants in matrimonial disputes.
In the amended act also section 10 contains “grounds for dissolution of marriage”. However, the same have been amended to give same grounds of dissolution of marriage to husband and wife.
Section 10 contains grounds for dissolution
In case either husband or wife:
i). has committed adultery
ii). has ceased to be Christian by conversion to any other religion
iii).has been incurably of unsound mind for a continuous period of not less than 2 years
iv). has, for a period of not less than two years immediately preceding the petition, been suffering from virulent and incurable form of leprosy: or
v). has, for a period of not less than two years immediately preceding the petition, been suffering from venereal disease in communicable form; or
vi). has not been heard alive for a period of 7years or more by those who would have naturally heard; or
vii). has willfully refused to consummate the marriage and the marriage has not thereof been consummated; or
viii).has failed to comply with decree of restitution of conjugal rights for a period of two years or upwards after passing of decree; or
ix).has deserted his or her spouse for atleast two years immediately preceding the presentation of petition; or
x).has treated his or her spouse with such cruelty as to cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of other spouse that it would be harmful or injurious for the either spouse to live with the other.
The inserted section 10-A incorporate dissolution of marriage by mutual consent on the ground;
- Both the husband and wife are living separately for a period of two years or more
- They have not been able to live together
- They have mutually agreed that the marriage should be dissolved.
Under section 36 of the Act, wife and children can claim maintenance from the husband during the pendency of the Divorce Case.
I personally feel that although the legislation has provided better laws to Christians for dissolution of marriage but still there is a need where estranged spouses should take a pause for a minute- do self analysis, analysis of circumstances which has lead to unpleasantness between them, before opting for Divorce.
Dave Meurer has said that –“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”
The Holy Bible enshrines Christian values and morals to lead happy, peaceful and blissful married life. Love is the basis of relation and it has been beautifully explained in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
In any marital discord, it is advised to discuss your problem with pastors, elders and take help of counseling sessions before opting for Divorce. And where there are children, the fate of children is also at stake, think about them .Rethink-whether break up of marriage is the only solution?