Marriage Annulment is the complete nullification of a marriage, which is different from a divorce. What are the laws in India for this?
Apart from the dissolution of a marriage through divorce, the Hindu Marriage Act allows the complete nullification of a marriage too. What makes this different from simply ending a marriage? Read further to find out.
While divorce legally puts an end to a marriage that once existed on paper, a marriage annulment declares it null and void, as if the union never existed in the first place. Unlike a divorce, a marriage annulment is very rarely granted.
Marriages are declared null and void if certain requirements were not fulfilled at the time of the marriage. Let’s look at those required for the Hindu Marriage Act 1995, for example.
According to section V of the Hindu Marriage Act 1995, at the time of marriage, the two parties-
~ must not already have a living spouse.
~ must be of marriageable age- which is eighteen for females and twenty-one for males
~ must be mentally sound
~ must not be involved in another relationship that does not permit marriage
~ must not be ‘sapindas’ of each other / cannot be married if they are closely related
If any of these requirements were not met at the time of the marriage, it may be considered void or voidable.
In some cases, marriages are considered void without a granted annulment.
Firstly, if either party had another living spouse at the time of marriage, the marriage becomes void. Muslim men however can have multiple spouses as the Muslim Personal Law allows it under certain conditions.
Secondly, if the two parties in question are related, the marriage is considered void. According to Section 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1995, in these cases, a marriage annulment is automatic. This stands true, even if the marriage had been consummated or children had been conceived.
Unlike a void marriage, in the case of voidable marriages, an annulment is not automatic. According to section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1995 in a voidable marriage, either party has to petition for a marriage annulment to be granted. The grounds of annulment include the following:
Firstly, an annulment can be granted in the case where a marriage was never consummated, that is, if the two people were unable to engage in sexual intercourse. This could be due to ‘impotency’ of either partner.
Secondly, a marriage could be voidable if either party had been suffering from certain mental conditions at the time of marriage. However, only severe illnesses can be considered as grounds for annulment. The person must suffer from a condition that makes them incapable of understanding the marriage and marital responsibilities.
Further, if in the course of the marriage the person eventually recovers, the illness may no longer be considered as grounds for annulment. To add on, if disease is discovered later in the marriage, an annulment may be granted only if it is proven that it existed at the time of the marriage.
To draw an example, Anima Roy vs. Prabadh Mohan Roy involved a spouse who was found to be suffering from Schizophrenia two months post the marriage. However, the marriage annulment was not granted because the disease was not proven to exist at the time of the marriage.
Thirdly, a marriage is voidable if either party was not of marriageable age at the time of the union. (18 for females and 21 for males) However, a marriage annulment may not be granted if the two people continue living together and eventually reach a marriageable age.
Next, a marriage is voidable if any of the persons involved was forced into it or if any kind of fraud was involved.
However, Petitions for marriage annulment based on fraud or forced consent cannot be filed for after more than a year since the discovery of fraud. Secondly, the petitioner could not have been consentfully living with the spouse post the discovery of fraud. To add on, the court has to be convinced that the petitioner was not aware of the fraud at the time of the marriage.
In the case of marriages before the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1978, the consent of the guardian is also significant. If the consent of a parent/guardian was obtained through force or fraud, the marriage is voidable.
Finally, a marriage can be declared void if a person was pregnant with a child of someone other than the spouse in question at the time of the marriage. However, a petition cannot be filed if the marriage is consummated after the discovery of an existing pregnancy.
While the description above uses the Hindu Marriage Act as reference, annulment of Parsi, Christian and Muslim marriages follow a similar guide.
Either party in a marriage can petition for a marriage annulment in a district court. The petition can be filed for in their place of birth, the place of marriage or in the couple’s last place of residence. If none of these are possible, a petitioner may have to reside at a location for at least 90 days before filing for an annulment.
The petitioner then has to provide their lawyer with a set of documents. These documents are similar to those provided in the case of a divorce. Following this, the case will progress. If the specified requirements are met, the petitioner will receive an annulment decree confirming the marriage annulment.
According to the law, children had within a void marriage or annulled marriages are considered legitimate. That is, these children obtain the legal rights of any other individual. With regards to property rights, the child can inherit either parent’s property. However, property of individuals from extended families of either party cannot be inherited by the child.
Marriages act as a state’s medium of registering sexual relationships. This explains the string of complications related to sexual intercourse, impregnation and children that exists within the laws related to marriage annulment. While the process is often considered more religious that legal, the institution of marriage and its dissolution lie in the hands of the state.
While religious institutions sometimes intervene, annulments ultimately require legal binding. For example, in 2019, complications arose against a law that prohibited the High Court from having control over annulments carried out by the church. In due course of time, the law was struck down.
While divorce is a tabooed concept within Indian society, annulment is considered to be less socially outlawed. This majorly has to do with the The Indian society’s judgement would consider a nullified marriage better than the ‘burden’ of a divorce.
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A student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. Enjoys old bands and acrylics.
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