THE SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT, 1954

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In 1872, Henry Sumner Maine initiated Act III which grants any dissenters to choose their partner in accordance with the new law dealing with civil marriage. But the Act failed due to opposition from the Government and administrators and hence a new legislation was passed making certain adequate reforms. The Special Marriage Act was passed in 1954 by the Indian Parliament as an extension of the British law. The fundamental purpose of the Act was to provide special type of marriage, registration of marriage and divorce in certain cases stated in the legislation. The Act received the assent of the President on October 9, 1954 and came into force on January 1, 1955.

The Act stipulates various clauses which provides for solemnization of marriage between two persons. The Act states that at the time of marriage, neither of the spouse shall have another living partner; male shall attain the age of 21 years and female shall attain the age of 18 years; the parties shall not be in a relationship prohibited by law. Some other grounds for not approving marriage under the Act are unsoundness of mind, mental instability, insanity, epilepsy etc. For solemnizing a marriage under the Act the parties shall furnish a notice to the Marriage Officer in the manner specified in the Second Schedule to the Act.

The notices received by the marriage officer shall be entered in a notice book which shall be inspected by any authorized person without remitting any fees. The marriage officer shall also affix a copy of the notice in noticeable part of his office. The Act provides that any person shall file an objection before the marriage officer within thirty days of publication of notice. But the objection can be raised only on the ground that the solemnization of marriage contravenes the conditions specified under the Act. The objection shall be signed by the person filing objection and recorded by the marriage officer in the specified format. The marriage officer shall not allow the parties to formalize marriage where an objection is received and shall conduct necessary inquiry. Where the officer is satisfied that the objection is frivolous or when the objection is withdrawn by the concerned person, the marriage officer shall authorize the marriage to be solemnized. If the marriage officer disallows the formalization of marriage, the aggrieved parties shall file an appeal to the District Court within a term of thirty days and the decision of the Court shall be absolute.

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The marriage officer is vested with the powers of Civil Court when dealing with a suit under the Civil Procedure Code. The parties to the marriage shall sign a statement in the manner specified in the third Schedule in front of the marriage officer along with three witnesses. The marriage shall be formalized in the office of the marriage officer in the manner decided by the parties to the marriage. The marriage officer shall file a marriage certificate in the Marriage Certificate Book in the mode prescribed under the fourth Schedule which shall be signed by the parties and three witnesses. The certificate shall be considered as conclusive proof that the marriage has been formalized and the procedures of marriage are properly complied with. Where a marriage has been solemnized according to any other law or custom for the time being in force, such marriage shall be registered under the Special Marriage Act but only after fulfilling certain norms and conditions.

The Act also provides for nullity of marriage if the parties to the marriage have not abided by the conditions under the Act. The marriage shall also be nullified on the ground that one of the parties was impotent and any other act contravening the provisions of the present legislation. The marriage shall be voidable on the ground that the respondent was pregnant at the time of marriage from another person, marriage has not been consummated, the consent to the marriage has been acquired by force or coercion etc. The Act also specifies the grounds under which the husband or wife shall obtain a decree for divorce. The wife has special provisions under the Act to obtain divorce and conditions for divorce by mutual consent are also included. The Act empowers High Court to frame rules to execute the provision without contravening the provisions of the present Act. The Central Government shall also formulate rules in conformity with the Special Marriage Act.

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It is criticized that the Hindu Marriage Act contains certain contravening provisions with Special Marriage Act and hence the Court has ordered some states to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to make it consistent with the Special Marriage Act. Moreover, the Rajya Sabha has passed the Marriage Law (Amendment) Bill in 2013 which has modified some provisions of Special Marriage Act as well. The bill has inserted a new section dealing with divorce on the view of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The bill seeks to include a provision that confer right on the wife to oppose a petition for divorce for the reason that she would suffer great financial hardships if the divorce is allowed. Hence the bill aims to fill certain gaps in the Special Marriage Act but it is pending for obtaining assent of the President.