Amendments to existing lawsLegislation Updates

An Act further to amend the Divorce Act, 1869, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956.

BE it enacted by Parliament in the Seventieth Year of the Republic of India as follows:—

CHAPTER I
PRELIMINARY

1. (1) This Act may be called the Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019.
(2) It shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint.

CHAPTER II
AMENDMENT TO THE DIVORCE ACT, 1869

2. In the Divorce Act, 1869, in Section 10, in sub-section (1), clause (iv) shall be omitted.

CHAPTER III
AMENDMENT TO THE DISSOLUTION OF MUSLIM MARRIAGES ACT, 1939

3. In the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, in Section 2, in ground (vi), the words “leprosy or” shall be omitted.

CHAPTER IV
AMENDMENT TO THE SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT, 1954

4. In the Special Marriage Act, 1954, in Section 27, in sub-section (1), clause (g) shall be omitted.

CHAPTER V
AMENDMENT TO THE HINDU MARRIAGE ACT, 1955

5. In the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in Section 13, in sub-section (1), clause (iv) shall be omitted.

CHAPTER VI
AMENDMENT TO THE HINDU ADOPTIONS AND MAINTENANCE ACT, 1956

6. In the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 in Section 18, in sub-section (2), clause (c) shall be omitted.

[Dated: 21-02-2019]

Ministry of Law and Justice

OP. ED.

Efficacy of Foreign Decree of Divorce

We are in some context or the other confronted with the question as to “how good is a decree of divorce granted by a foreign court with regard to a Hindu couple married in India?” This question is becoming a familiar question with all of us.

The foremost answer that would surface with us would be, that, the Hindu couple residing/working in a foreign land ought to be governed by the matrimonial laws in force at that place. As a corollary, the decree of divorce granted by the foreign court should be valid.

However, the pride of the place is taken by Section 1 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which reads thus:

  1. Short title and extent—(1) This Act may be called the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

      (2) It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and applies also to Hindus domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who are outside the said territories.

It is for this reason that Hindus married as per Hindu Rights in India, although settled abroad, are primarily required by law to process divorce proceedings only as per the said Act i.e. applying the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

The other emphasis of the Indian law is the mandate of Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The said Section mentions that divorce can be taken exclusively on the stated grounds. When the grounds have been specifically elucidated, it excludes the scope of granting divorce on any other ground. Few grounds mentioned in the said Act are as follows:

(i) petitioner has been treated with cruelty;

(ii) petitioner has been deserted;

(iii) respondent has ceased to be a Hindu; and

(iv) respondent has been of an incurable unsound mind.

To complete the narration of codified law on the subject, reference to Section 13 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 is essential which reads as under:

  1. When foreign judgment not conclusive —A foreign judgment shall be conclusive as to any matter thereby directly adjudicated upon between the same parties or between parties under whom they or any of them claim litigating under the same title except—

            (a) where it has not been pronounced by a court of competent jurisdiction;

             (b) where it has not been given on the merits of the case;

            (c) where it appears on the face of the proceedings to be founded on an incorrect view of international law or a refusal to recognise the law of India in cases in which such law is applicable;

             (d) where the proceedings in which the judgment was obtained are opposed to natural justice;

             (e) where it has been obtained by fraud; and

             (f) where it sustains a claim founded on a breach of any law in force in India.

The above provisions were considered in detail by the Supreme Court of India in Y. Narasimha Rao v. Y. Venkata Lakshmi[1]. This Court ruled that:

(a) Court of competent jurisdiction would be the one which the law under which parties are married, recognises. Any other court would be court without jurisdiction, unless both parties voluntarily and unconditionally subject themselves to the jurisdiction of that Court.

(b) It was held that the decision must be given on the “merits” of the case i.e.:

           (i) The ground of divorce in the decision of the foreign court should be a ground available under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. For instance, if the ground of the foreign decree was cruelty on the applicant, this would be acceptable, as “cruelty” is a stated ground under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. But the same cannot be said for “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”, as this is not a ground under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

          (ii) The decision should be a result of contest between the parties. The non-applicant should have unconditionally submitted to the jurisdiction of the foreign court and contested the claim or agreed to the passing of the decree. The concept of acquiescence to jurisdiction would not suffice.

(c) Refusal to recognise the law of India, is covered by saying that the ground for divorce in the foreign decree is a ground available under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

(d) The foreign judgment was obtained as opposed to natural justice. The concept of natural justice is the provision of fair hearing; absence of bias of Judge and following the elementary principles of fair play. This is a larger concept but shortly can be stated as essential trappings in order to have a fair adjudication. Where for instance respondent was denied documents filed by the other side or where the respondent was denied the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses of the other side, without a justifiable cause, these would be opposed to the principles of natural justice.

(e) Where the foreign decree was obtained by fraud. Fraud at any stage vitiates legal proceedings. It is often said that law and fraud cannot co-exist.

In Satya v. Teja Singh[2], when the respondent had instituted a foreign court proceeding, in a court in whose jurisdiction the applicant has never lived, respondent had made a false representation that respondent was a bona fide resident of that State. It was held that the respondent had practised fraud on the foreign court by concealing this fact. Therefore, that foreign court had no territorial jurisdiction. That foreign court decree was declared invalid by the Supreme Court of India.

Law on this has hardly undergone any development in the last 27 years. Y. Narasimha Rao case[3] stands alone, so to say.

Briefly, the expression “where it has not been given on merits of the case” was commented upon by the Supreme Court of India in International Woollen Mills v. Standard Wool (UK) Ltd.[4] The view taken was when evidence was led by the plaintiff applicant in the foreign court, even though the opposite side may have been served but not appearing, the decision would be “on merits”. This Court concurred with the law laid down in another case which stated that:

A decision on the merits involves the application of the mind of the Court to the truth or falsity of the plaintiff’s case and therefore though a judgment passed after a judicial consideration of the matter by taking evidence may be a decision on the merits even though passed ex parte, a decision passed without evidence of any kind but passed only on his pleadings cannot be held to be a decision on the merits.

Situation before the Indian Courts

In the above background, Indian courts were confronted with situations wherein Hindu couples married in India as per Hindu Law, settled in a foreign land, develop matrimonial disputes and approach a foreign court. This situation demanded the Indian courts to determine whether the decrees passed by the foreign court as a consequence of the matrimonial disputes between the Hindu couples settled abroad, had any efficacy in India.

 Concept of “Comity of Courts”

This is a view taken by the courts, which is known as the concept of “comity of courts”. This means that courts in various countries grant probity to decrees of foreign courts. The understanding being, the courts all over the world adjudicate the rights of the parties and therefore, show mutual respect. This principle was first laid by the Court of England and subsequently approved by the Supreme Court of India in Elizabeth Dinshaw v. Arvand M. Dinshaw[5]. The Court recorded the observation that:

                9. … it is the duty of all courts in all countries to do all they can to ensure that the wrongdoer does not gain an advantage by his wrongdoing.

The courts in all countries ought, as I see it, to be careful not to do anything to encourage this tendency. This substitution of self-help for due process of law in this field can only harm the interests of wards generally, and a Judge should, as I see it, pay regard to the orders of the proper foreign court unless he is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that to do so would inflict serious harm on the child.

The Supreme Court of India in another case Alcon Electronics (P) Ltd. v. Celem SA of FOS 34320 Roujan[6], recorded the following:

                19. The principles of comity of nation demand us to respect the order of English Court. Even in regard to an interlocutory order, Indian courts have to give due weight to such order unless it falls under any of the exceptions under Section 13 CPC.…

These are the competing considerations before the Indian courts. That is the codified laws and the concept of “comity of courts”. These have to be reconciled by the Indian courts.

In a different context, namely, custody of child, in an inter-country dispute, Supreme Court of India had occasioned to opine in Ruchi Majoo v. Sanjeev Majoo[7]. It may be clarified that custody of child matter is to be viewed completely differently as against dissolution of marriage. This is for the reason that in custody of child matters, welfare of the child is of paramount consideration by the Court.

Supreme Court of India took the view that:

Recognition of decrees and orders passed by foreign courts remains an eternal dilemma inasmuch as whenever called upon to do so, courts in this country are bound to determine the validity of such decrees and orders keeping in view the provisions of Section 13 CPC. … Simply because a foreign court has taken a particular view on any aspect concerning the welfare of the minor is not enough for the courts in this country to shut out an independent consideration of the matter. Objectivity and not abject surrender is the mantra in such cases. Judicial pronouncements on the subject are not on virgin ground. Since no system of private international law exists that can claim universal recognition on this issue, Indian courts have to decide the issue regarding the validity of the decree in accordance with the Indian law. Comity of courts simply demands consideration of any such order issued by foreign courts and not necessarily their enforcement.

In that context, Supreme Court of India in Prateek Gupta v. Shilpi Gupta[8], balanced the foreign court order on custody by holding that it is one of the relevant factors without getting fixated therewith. Court held that:

           32. … while examining the question on merits, would bear in mind the welfare of the child as of paramount and predominant importance while noting the pre-existing order of the foreign court, if any, as only one of the factors and not get fixated therewith.…

A different situation arose before the Delhi High Court in Harmeeta Singh v. Rajat Taneja[9]. Here the husband had filed proceedings in the foreign court. Wife has approached the Delhi High Court by way of a civil suit. High Court restrained the husband for continuing with the proceedings in the foreign court, as the wife had no spouse visa, she possibly could not defend the proceeding in the foreign court. Of course, there was no occasion for the wife to submit to jurisdiction of the foreign court.

Broadly Two Categories of Cases

Broadly speaking two categories of cases can be carved out on the basis whether the opposite party in the foreign court appeared and actively participated or not. Therefore, the subject can be easily stated under the following two heads:

(i) Did Not Attend Nor Actively Participated

The non-applicant always has an option not to attend nor actively participate in the foreign court proceedings. This would be taken as, the non-applicant did not submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. This, however, does not mean that the non-applicant is not even required to be served in the foreign court proceedings. Non-service would amount to denial of opportunity to be heard.

As the non-applicant did not submit to the jurisdiction, it is further said that this non-applicant did not chance a judgment in his/her favour. Challenge to the foreign court decree in such a situation may be entertained by the Indian courts. It cannot, therefore, be said that having participated, having submitted to the jurisdiction and having made submissions before the foreign court, now because the verdict of the foreign court is against the non-applicant, he is now challenging the same in the Indian court.

The non-applicant must be served with notice of the foreign court proceedings. Or else, the proceedings would be taken in law to be a nullity i.e. of no value in law. If this is a situation, Indian courts are likely to declare the entire foreign court proceedings as void.

(ii) Did Attend And Actively Participated

This question automatically answers itself, when contrasted with the above answer. Having attended and having participated, the non-applicant (respondent) in the foreign court cannot complain that he/she was not heard, if the respondent had voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. The respondent is free to make an alternative plea under the jurisdiction of the foreign court for grant of alimony or monthly maintenance. To adjudicate the same, the foreign court would be free to follow laws laid by its own land.

Another form of “attend and actively participate” is when the non-applicant consents to the passing of the decree of divorce.

Consequences of a Foreign Decree of Divorce Being Held as Invalid

Respondent cannot sit with the comfort that he/she has a decree for divorce from a foreign court. Consequences may appear soon thereafter or maybe years later. The other side may apply for its cancellation in the Indian court. In such an eventuality if:

       (i) The respondent remarries, he may be prosecuted for bigamy. Case in point is Y. Narasimha Rao v. Y. Venkata Lakshmi[10].

       (ii) Opposite party may file for maintenance.

       (iii) Issue of custody of children can be raised.

       (iv) Opposite party may claim share in the property of the respondent.

Executability of Foreign Court Decree

There is a provision in Indian law for execution of foreign court decrees. This is contained in Section 44-A CPC read with Section 13 CPC.

Although Section 44-A CPC is couched in general phraseology and would seem to apply to the execution of foreign decrees in general. However, when it comes to specific laws i.e. the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or the issue of custody of the child, Section 44-A seems to have little application.

These specific Acts have an overbearing effect on Section 44-A CPC. This is clear from sub-section (3) of Section 44-A which makes it clear that this is subject to the decree falling in any of the exceptions contained in Section 13 CPC.

Conclusion

The above discussion only shows how complicated the position is regarding the validity of a foreign court decree of divorce. It can perhaps be stated that a Hindu couple married in India would be well advised to seek a divorce from an Indian court only.

There can be little comfort from the fact that the foreign court decree was passed and some time has elapsed or that there is inaction of the opposite side. Consequences may appear several years later.

A Probable Way Ahead

The process of simplification could begin for instance from a Hindu couple permanently settled abroad. If facts show that they were indeed permanently settled in the foreign land, then, such a couple could be said to have causal and most immediate territorial connection with the foreign land. It could be held that their court of competent jurisdiction could be foreign court and their proper law i.e. codified law would be the foreign law. This is stated on the strength of principles given by the Supreme Court of India in Surinder Kaur Sandhu v. Harbax Singh Sandhu[11]:

                     10. … The modern theory of conflict of laws recognises and, in any event, prefers the jurisdiction of the State which has the most intimate contact with the issues arising in the case.… Ordinarily, jurisdiction must follow upon functional lines. That is to say, for example, that in matters relating to matrimony and custody, the law of that place must govern which has the closest concern with the well-being of the spouses and the welfare of the offsprings of marriage.…

By adopting this approach a practical way may appear for couples settled abroad. They may not need to have recourse to Indian courts. The development of law could march in this direction.

——————————————————–

† Advocate, Supreme Court of India

[1]  (1991) 3 SCC 451

[2] (1975) 1 SCC 120

[3] (1991) 3 SCC 451

[4] (2001) 5 SCC 265

[5] (1987) 1 SCC 42, 47

[6] (2017) 2 SCC 253, 262

[7] (2011) 6 SCC 479

[8] (2018) 2 SCC 309, 330

[9] 2003 SCC OnLine Del 60 : (2003) 2 RCR (Civ) 197

[10] (1991) 3 SCC 451

Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given its approval to the following proposals:

  1. Promulgation of an Ordinance, namely the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Second Ordinance, 2019, as per Appendix-III (pages(9 to 12) under clause (1) of Article 123 of the Constitution; and
  2. Move necessary official amendments in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 pending in Rajya Sabha to replace the aforesaid Ordinance with such modifications of drafting and consequential nature as may be considered necessary.

Benefits:

The proposed Ordinance will protect the rights of married Muslim women and prevent divorce by the practice of instantaneous and irrevocable ‘talaq-e-biddat’ by their husbands. It will discourage the practice of triple talaq i.e. talaq-e-biddat. Promulgation of the proposed Ordinance will provide the rights of subsistence allowance, custody of minor children to victims of triple talaq i.e. talaq-e-biddat.

Ministry of Law and Justice

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Bench of Mridula Bhatkar, J. quashed and set aside the order passed by Additional Sessions Judge,  refusing to discharge the petitioner/accused from offence punishable under Section 377 of Penal Code, 1860.

The present petition was filed in respect of challenging the order passed by the Metropolitan Magistrate, Girgaon, Mumbai rejecting the discharge of petitioner under Section 377 IPC.

Petitioner in the present case is a co-accused prosecuted under Sections 498-A, 377, 323, 504  r/w Section 34 of IPC. The facts of the case are that the complainant is married with a son of 6 to 7 years old. Complainant states that after 4-5 years of marriage she realised that her husband was gay, and on realising that she refused the parallel relationship of her husband. She also stated that she was ill-treated by her husband due to which she had left for her father’s house but later agreed to come back to her husband’s place when she again witnessed no change and continuation of the gay relationship of her husband with different males.

On realising the fact that her husband was not ready to stop his relationship with the petitioner/accused and being ill-treated a number of times, she finally lodged an FIR. Later, the Additional Sessions Judge partly allowed the revision application but maintained the charge under Section 377 IPC against the accused. Aggrieved by the same, the present petition was filed.

High Court while placing reliance on the Apex Court’s judgment in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 1, held that though the ground for divorce could be the extramarital consensual sexual relationship as cruelty to the complainant, but it does not constitute an offence under Section 377 IPC, because both are adults and had a consensual sexual relationship.

Thus, in the present case, no victim exists and the order of the Additional Sessions Judge is quashed. [Daniel Crasto v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 188, dated 30-01-2019]


Note: The 5-Judge Constitution Bench comprising of CJ Dipak Misra and R.F. Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, JJ. in their landmark judgment held Section 377 IPC unconstitutional insofar it criminalised gay sex between consenting adults. [2018 SCC OnLine SC 1350]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: The application was filed before the Bench of S.C. Sharma, J. under Section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code for grant of anticipatory bail.

Applicants were apprehending their arrest for offences punishable under Section 498-A, 506 and 34 of the Penal Code registered with Police Station Pandrinath, Indore. Applicant 1 was the husband and other applicants were the father and mother-in-law of the complainant. Applicant 1 had stated that after 15-20 days of his marriage with complainant he came to Indore. Applicants were alleged for dowry demand and cruelty to complainant. Applicants contended that complainant was having an affair with someone and she was stopped from chatting with him. Even after efforts to peacefully end the marriage, a false complaint against applicants was made. Further, they submitted that they are respectable persons and they do not intend to abscond. It was brought before Court that FIR was lodged against the applicants only after a suit for divorce was filed.

High Court was of the view that bail ought to be granted to the applicants and the applicants should adhere to the conditions mentioned in Section 438(2) CrPC. [Kunal Bagdi v. State of M.P., 2019 SCC OnLine MP 215, Order dated 30-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Bench of Sanjeev Sachdeva, J. disposed of a petition holding that the petitioner (wife) was not entitled to maintenance under Section 125 CrPC for a period prior to the grant of divorce.

The petitioner and the respondent (husband) were married. They were living separately since 2004. Divorce was granted in 2015 on an application filed by the respondent on the ground of mental cruelty and desertion by the wife. The decree of divorce was upheld by the Supreme Court. Prior to that in 2007, the petitioner had applied under Section 125 CrPC for interim maintenance. By the impugned judgment, the trial court dismissed the application for maintenance on petitioner’s failure to show that she had sufficient cause to live separately.

S.K. Srivastava and Gurjeet Singh, Advocates for the petitioner assailed the impugned judgment while Senior Advocate Kirti Uppal with Sidharth Chopra and Shaini Bharadwaj, Advocates representing the respondent supported it.

The High Court referred to Section 125(4)which states that wife is not entitled to receive maintenance is not entitled to receive maintenance if without any sufficient reason she refuses to live with her husband. Relying on Rohtash Singh v. Ramendri, (2000) 3 SCC 180, the Court held that as the divorce decree was passed on ground of desertion which was upheld by Supreme Court, the petitioner was clearly disentitled to maintenance under Section 125. However, it was cleared that she could still file application for maintenance provided she is able to satisfy the condition of Section 125(1)(a) that she is unable to maintain herself. [Archita v. Sunil Seth, 2019 SCC OnLine Del 6484, Order dated 11-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Bench of Sunil Gaur, J. quashed an FIR filed against the petitioners for offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 406 and 34 IPC.

Petition was filed seeking quashing of the FIR on the basis of mediated settlement between the parties. Jitender Gupta and Deepak Rohilla, Advocates representing the petitioners submitted that the dispute between the parties was matrimonial in nature which was amicably resolved in terms of mediated settlement dated 15-12-2018. It was also brought to notice of the Court that the parties had been divorced by mutual consent.

The High Court relied on Gian Singh v. State of Punjab, (2012) 10 SCC 303 where the Supreme Court had recognised the need of amicable resolution of disputes in cases like the present one. Inclined to allow the petition, the High Court observed, “Since the subject matter of this FIR is essentially matrimonial, which stands mutually and amicably settled between parties, therefore, the continuance of proceedings arising out of the FIR is question would be an exercise in futility.” Taking note of the mediated settlement between the parties and the fact that they have taken divorce by mutual consent, the Court quashed the FIR and proceedings emanating therefrom. [Rohit Bhargava v. State, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13177, Order dated 20-12-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Single Judge Bench of R.K. Gauba, J. allowed a petition for quashing of criminal proceedings pending against in light of the settlement between the parties.

Disputes arose between the petitioner and his wife which led to FIRs being lodged against each other. Subsequently, the parties entered into a settlement. They approached the matrimonial court for divorce by mutual consent. Recording the joint statement by the parties, the matrimonial court decreed the divorce by mutual consent. On the basis of the resolution between the parties, the petitioner and his relatives approached the High Court under Section 482 CrPC for quashing criminal cases against them. However, owing to such framing of the petition, the case under one of the FIRs only was quashed. Notably, the wife submitted no objection thereto. Now, the petitioner was before the Court praying the quashing of the case under the second FIR but the wife raised an objection that there being no fresh settlement, the present petition could not be entertained.

The High Court perused the record and did not agree with the objection. It noted that the settlement leading to divorce and quashing of criminal case was comprehensive, the parties specifically referred to all litigations including the second FIR. The intent of parties was to bring an end to all litigations. As such, the continuation of proceedings would be an abuse of process of the Court. Therefore, the petition was allowed and the proceedings under the second FIR were quashed. [Sandeep Dutta v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13029, dated 11-12-2018]

 

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: A Bench comprising of V.M. Vellumani, J. has held in the case of matrimonial dispute regarding the irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce valid.

In the present case, the appellant has averred various incidents, by which, the respondent has repeatedly caused mental agony and cruelty to the appellant. The learned counsel for the appellant stated that the respondent has admitted in his evidence that he put up 10 locks, not 22 locks to lock the home. Any normal prudent man would not put 10 locks to lock the home. This fact coupled with the fact that the respondent was friendly with the parents of the appellant in their presence and talked about them shows mental illness of the respondent.

Thus, the appeal has been filed by the wife claiming for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty and the fact that both the appellant and respondents have been living separately for more than ten years. The respondent is alleged to be mentally ill as well.

“Marriages are made in heaven. Both parties have crossed the point of no return.”

-Durga Prasanna Tripathy v. Arundhati Tripathy; (2005) 7 SCC 353

According to Hindu Law, irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not considered as a valid ground for divorce but this court, following the precedents, has held irretrievable breakdown of marriage a valid ground for divorce. To prevent the appellant from more cruelty, the appeal of divorce has been allowed. Furthermore, this Court has also dismissed the claim filed by the respondent for the restitution of conjugal rights. [Salome v. Prince D. Immanuel, 2017 SCC OnLine Mad 1651, decided on 06-04-2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench comprising of G.S. Sistani and Jyoti Singh, JJ. dismissed an appeal against the judgment of Family Court whereby it had decreed a divorce petition filed by the husband on grounds of cruelty by the wife.

The parties got married in 2006. A divorce petition was filed by the husband in 2009 alleging various instances of cruelty by the wife along with allegations that she was ill-tempered, stubborn, quarrelsome and insensitive towards the husband and his parents. On the basis of the evidence adduced by the parties, the Family Court granted a decree of divorce in favour of the husband on grounds of cruelty by the wife. Aggrieved thereby, the wife preferred the instant appeal.

While adjudicating, the High Court referred to a Supreme Court decision in Narendra v. K. Meena, (2016) 9 SCC 455. It was noted that the Family Court reached a conclusion that wife tied a dupatta around her neck and threatened him to commit suicide as the husband refused to seek separation from his parents. She also wrote a suicide note which was proved. In view of the Court, repeated attempts to commit suicide by the wife amounted to extreme cruelty especially when she tried to implicate the husband guilty of abatement. Finding no infirmity in the judgment passed by the Family Court, the High Court dismissed the appeal. [Kusum v. Gurcharan  Singh,2018 SCC OnLine Del 12576, decided on 15-11-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division bench comprising of C.K. Abdul Rehim and R. Narayana Pisharadi, JJ. affirmed the order of Family Court striking off defence of the erring husband but set aside the part of order staying proceedings in a divorce petition instituted by the wife, holding the same to be counter-productive in achieving real and substantial justice.

Facts of the case were that the respondent-wife filed a petition for divorce in the Family Court inter alia claiming interim maintenance from the petitioner-husband. The court granted her decree for interim maintenance but the petitioner deliberately disobeyed the court’s order and did not pay maintenance. The Family Court directed petitioner’s defence in the divorce petition to be struck off and to withhold trial till payment of arrears of maintenance. The said order was challenged by the petitioner in the present appeal.

At the outset, the Bench noted that the petitioner had not offered any explanation whatsoever for non-payment of the interim monthly maintenance. Having gone through judgments of various High Courts on the said issue, it was observed that when a party flouts a court order directing payment of interim alimony, thereby putting the other party at a disadvantage, the court is not helpless and it can exercise its power under Section 151 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 to do real and substantial justice. On the said reasoning, it was opined that the Family Court was right in its approach of striking off the defence of petitioner and in staying of the proceedings. However, the court noted that in the instant case, divorce petition had been filed by the wife and as such, staying of proceedings in that case on the ground of non-payment of maintenance by the petitioner-husband would only cause delay in the disposal of the case thereby further adding to the wife’s grievances.

The High Court held that staying of proceedings only in a divorce case instituted by the defaulting party would achieve the object and staying of proceedings in a case instituted by the party to whom the amount is due, would be counter-productive. On the aforesaid reasoning, the order of Family Court striking off defence of petitioner was upheld and the part of order staying the proceedings was set aside. [Maximus Fernandez v. Olga Fernandez, 2018 SCC OnLine Ker 3479, decided on 24-09-2018]

Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance, 2018 has been passed by the Parliament and notified on 19-09-2018, as signed by the President for promulgation. The ordinance is directed towards protection of married Muslim women and prohibition of pronouncement of talaq by their husbands and any other matter incidental thereto. This ordinance has been promulgated with a view that despite the holding in the matter of Shayara Bano v. UOI, (2017) 9 SCC 1 where triple talaq was declared unconstitutional the practice still continued.

 

Highlights of the Ordinance:

  • Definition of talaqSection 2(b) of the ordinance definestalaqas talaq-e-biddat or talaq of similar form, pronounced by a Muslim husband having effect of instantaneous and irrevocable divorce.
  • Talaq to be void and illegal — This ordinance declares pronouncement of talaq by Muslim husband to be void and illegal and penalizes the commission of same with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years and fine under Section 3 and Section 4 respectively.
  • Allowance — According to the ordinance under Section 5 a Muslim husband who pronounces triple talaq to his wife will be liable to pay to her and dependent children subsistence allowance as may be determined by Magistrate.
  • Custody of Minor Children — In case a Muslim husband pronounces triple talaq to his Muslim wife the custody of their minor children will be with the married Muslim women i.e. his wife provided under Section 6.
  • Cognizable Offence — The offence under this ordinance has been declared as cognizable under Section 7(a).
  • Who can report? — Any commission of offence under this act can be informed to the officer in charge of a police station directly by the married Muslim woman on whom the talaq was pronounced and by any other person related to her by blood or marriage.
  • Compoundable Offence — According to Section 7(b) offence of pronouncing talaq is stated to be compoundable at the instance of married Muslim woman on whom talaq was pronounced but only with the permission of Magistrate.
  • Grant of Bail— Under Section 7(c) bail can be granted only when the Magistrate is satisfied after perusing the application of the accused and hearing married Muslim women upon whom the talaq was pronounced that reasonable ground for granting bail exists.
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench comprising of G.S. Sistani and C. Hari Shankar, JJ. dismissed an appeal filed by the appellant-husband against the order of the family court whereby it granted a decree of divorce in favour of the respondent-wife.

It was contended by appellant that he wasn’t given the opportunity to recall PW 1 for fresh cross-examination as the evidence recorded by the family court was self-destructive attributable to unprofessional approach of the earlier counsel for the appellant. The appellant had filed an application under Section 151 read with Order 18 Rule 17 CPC which was dismissed as withdrawn. The present appeal was filed under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984.

The High Court considered the submissions made by the parties. It referred to Vadiraj Naggappa Vernekar v. Sharadchandra Prabhakar Gogate, (2009) 4 SCC 410 and K.K. Velusamy v. N. Palanisamy(2011) 11 SCC 275. The Court observed that Order 18 Rule 17 CPC is to be exercised sparingly. The provision is not intended to enable the parties to recall any witness for further examination. It is primarily to enable the Court to clarify any issue or doubt by recalling any witness either suo motu or on application of any party so that the Court can itself put questions and elicit answers. Moreover, in the present case, the application filed by the appellant was withdrawn when it came up for hearing. Once the application was dismissed as withdrawn, the appellant could not complain that he wasn’t given the opportunity to re-examine the witness. In such circumstances, the appeal was dismissed. [Rajiv Mehta v. Savita Mehta,2018 SCC OnLine Del 10936, dated 20-08-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Mangesh S. Patil, J. dismissed a husband’s challenge to the award of compensation to his divorced wife granted by the Additional Sessions Judge.

The appellant-husband and respondent-wife were married in 2003. Subsequently, they developed discord and the wife left the husband alleging harassment. The husband filed petition for restitution of conjugal rights which was allowed. However, even after that, the parties couldn’t live together. Thereafter, the husband filed a divorce petition on grounds of desertion by the wife. The said petition was allowed and the marriage between the parties was dissolved, which decree had become final. Subsequent to that, the wife filed an application for maintenance under Section 125 CrPC. The application was rejected by the Judicial Magistrate; however, on appeal, the Additional Session Judge allowed the same. Aggrieved by the order of the Additional Sessions Judge, the husband had filed the present petition.

The High Court perused the record and found that the facts stated above were the admitted position of the parties. Marriage between the parties was indeed dissolved by a decree of dissolution which had become final. The question before the  Court was whether, under Section 125 CrPC, the Court could grant maintenance to a wife who was divorced on grounds of desertion. For adjudication, the Court relied on the Supreme Court decision in Rohatash Singh v. Ramendri, 2000 (3) SCC 180  wherein it was held that even such a wife can claim maintenance under the section; however, it would be available to her only from the date on which decree for dissolution of marriage had been passed. Accordingly, the husband’s challenge to award of maintenance granted to the wife was dismissed. However, it was held that the wife would be entitled to maintenance only from the date of divorce decree, and not from the date of filing of an application under Section 125 as held by the Additional Sessions Judge. The petition was disposed of in the terms above. [Dnyaneshwar Eknath Kachre v. Sunita,2018 SCC OnLine Bom 2243, dated 24-08-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: A Division Bench comprising of M.M.S. Bedi and Hari Pal Verma, JJ. allowed an appeal filed by the wife against the judgment of the family court, which declined her petition for divorce.

The appellant claimed that her husband was addicted to the vice of drinking, gambling and taking medical intoxicants. He used to spend all his income on these addictions. He used to beat the appellant and demanded her to bring money from her parent’s home. He pressurized her to bring Rs. 8 lakhs, and when she showed her disability, the appellant was beaten after which she was forced to leave her matrimonial home. She filed a divorce petition on grounds of cruelty, which was dismissed by the family court. Feeling aggrieved, the petitioner approached the High Court.

The High Court perused the record and found that no rebuttal evidence was produced by the respondent-husband against the pleadings of the appellant. Considering the statements of the appellant and other witnesses, and in absence of a rebuttal by the respondent, the Court held that the facts as alleged by the appellant in divorce petition were established. Furthermore, the Court was informed that the respondent was settled in Australia and had no intention to contest the matter. In such circumstances, holding the factum of cruelty as established against the respondent, the High Court allowed the appeal and granted divorce to the appellant. [Yogita v. Sandeep Kumar,2018 SCC OnLine P&H 726, dated 01-06-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: An appeal filed by the wife against the decree of divorce by mutual consent, was allowed by a Division Bench comprising of Pankaj Mithal and Rajiv Joshi, JJ.

A decree was passed by the family court under Section 13-B of Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955 for dissolution of the marriage of the appellant-wife and her husband by mutual consent. The wife preferred the appeal under Section 28 HMA read with Section 19 of Family Courts Act 1984, against the said decree contending that her consent was obtained by undue influence. The question before the Court was ‘whether an appeal under Section 19 of Family Courts Act would lie against a decree passed under Section 13-B HMA?’

The Court perused Section 13-B and held that a decree of divorce by mutual consent could be passed by the Court only if all the conditions mentioned under the said Section are complied with. The Court referred to Section 23(1) (bb) and relying on Sureshta Devi v. Om Prakash, (1991) 2 SCC 25, held that before passing a decree under Section 13-B, the Court must satisfy itself that the consent of the parties was not obtained by coercion, fraud or undue influence. Further, Section 28 HMA did not place any rider on appeals against a consent decree under the Act. In light of the discussion as mentioned herein, the Court admitted the appeal and directed the issuing of notice to the respondent. [Pooja v. Vijay Chaitanya,  2018 SCC OnLine All 513, dated 06-04-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Single Judge Bench comprising of M.V. Muralidaran J., held that “If the husband is healthy, able-bodied and in a position to support himself, he is under the obligation to support his wife under Section 125 CrPC, for wife’s right to receive maintenance under the Section, unless disqualified, is an absolute right.”

The petition for divorce was first filed by the husband/petitioner subsequently followed by a petition by the wife seeking restitution of conjugal rights and while these petitions were still pending, the wife of the petitioner filed another petition seeking interim maintenance for which the petitioner was asked to pay Rs. 16,000/- per month to the respondent/wife.

The petitioner in his submission stated that he was unemployed and was living under the shadow of his father which makes him incapable of providing such huge amount of interim maintenance. But for the same stated issue the respondent/wife contended that it was the husband’s duty to maintain his wife/child with the provision of all the basic needs, and also the contention of the petitioner is incorrect as he runs his own business.

The Hon’ble High Court, on noting all the facts and circumstances stated that it is the obligation of the husband to maintain his wife and he cannot be permitted to plead that he is unable to maintain his wife due to financial constraints as long as he is capable of earning. Therefore, the Criminal Revision was partly allowed by reducing the sum of interim maintenance to Rs. 10,000/- per month by directing the Family Court judge to dispose of the petition without giving any further adjournment. [Vishnuprasad v. Vishnupriya,  2018 SCC OnLine Mad 1306, dated 11-04-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The Court recently heard an appeal from the Family Court under Section 19(1) of the Family Courts Act, 1984 by wife against decree allowing the respondent husband’s prayer for dissolution of marriage. Both the parties got married in 2005 and have a girl child aged 8 years from the wedlock. The appellant wife lodged the FIR against the respondent and his family members for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC and on completion of trial after the FIR, the accused persons were acquitted.

At the same time, the wife had filed a case for claiming maintenance for herself and for her minor daughter to which the respondent had refuted in the trial court that that the appellant wife was residing separately for more than two years without any reasonable and justifiable cause. On this ground, the respondent pleaded for the divorce decree on the ground of desertion for which he said, action arose when appellant left his company and he and his family members were acquitted in the case filed against them under Section 498-A IPC.

To this, the appellant had submitted that the Sessions Court acquitted the accused persons not on merits, but only on the ground that there was delay in filing FIR by her whereas the FIR was lodged immediately when the effort for reconciliation failed even after repeated Panchayat meetings arranged by parents of both the parties. Further, she told the court that she was in the same village as respondent and used to meet him frequently.

The Court going through the records of the case observed that Family Court framed only one material issue for determination as to whether the appellant/wife has treated the respondent/husband with cruelty and its finding clearly indicates that that the ground of cruelty urged by the plaintiff was not proved in trial.

The trial court also examined another aspect of cruelty as to whether the appellant wife has lodged false report for demand of dowry and has, thus, caused cruelty to the plaintiff and referred to Apex Court’s ruling in K. Srinivas v. K. Sunita, (2014) 16 SCC 34 in which it had been held that lodging of false complaint with intent to harass and humiliate the respondent and his family members has been treated to be amounting to cruelty and divorce was allowed on the same ground.

The High Court on examining all these aspects of the case observed that matters before the family Court and the issue concerning commission of cruelty is to be tested on the basis of evidence adduced before the Family Court and not only on the ground that in criminal case the husband has been acquitted referring to the judgment passed by Supreme Court in Raj Talreja v. Kavita Talreja2017 SCC Online SC 462 and therefore, Prashant Kumar Mishra, J. said that in the case at hand the decree of divorce is not sustainable inasmuch as in absence of any pleading that such criminal case has caused cruelty and the decree of divorce is sought on this ground alone, the wife was precluded from defending herself.

The Division Bench comprising of Prashant Kumar Mishra, J. and Arvind Singh Chandel, J. further commented that when the dispute occurs between the husband and wife, it cannot be expected of the wife that the moment the dispute arose she would straightway lodge the FIR without making any effort to save the marital institution and the efforts for reconciliation put by husband and wife before the panchayat can never be treated as a ground to disbelieve the prosecution case.

The Court went on to explain that though this appeal was not about the validity of the order of acquittal passed by the Sessions Court, but in these circumstances of the case, it becomes necessary for us to analyze the whole gamut of evidence to conclude as to whether such acquittal would by itself amount to lodging of false FIR for harassing the husband and/or his relatives. Finally, it held that the appeal would succeed and no false case had been lodged by wife against husband and thus, there would be no cruelty. Hence, no ground would stand for divorce. [Durga Bai v. Narayan Sinha, 2017 SCC OnLine Chh 1246, decided on 08.11.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Holding that the minimum period of six months stipulated under Section 13B(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for a motion for passing decree of divorce on the basis of mutual consent is not mandatory  is not mandatory but directory, the bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit, JJ said that it will be open to the Court to exercise its discretion in the facts and circumstances of each case where there is no possibility of parties resuming cohabitation and there are chances of alternative rehabilitation.

The Court also said that in conducting such proceedings the Court can also use the medium of video conferencing and also permit genuine representation of the parties through close relations such as parents or siblings where the parties are unable to appear in person for any just and valid reason as may satisfy the Court, to advance the interest of justice.

Waiver of the statutory period under Section 13B(2) can be done after considering the following:

  1. the statutory period of six months specified in Section 13B(2), in addition to the statutory period of one year under Section 13B(1) of separation of parties is already over before the first motion itself;
  2. all efforts for mediation/conciliation including efforts in terms of Order XXXIIA Rule 3 CPC/Section 23(2) of the Act/Section 9 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 to reunite the parties have failed and there is no likelihood of success in that direction by any further efforts;
  3. the parties have genuinely settled their differences including alimony, custody of child or any other pending issues between the parties;
  4. the waiting period will only prolong their agony.

The court also said that the waiver application can be filed one week after the first motion giving reasons for the prayer for waiver and if the above conditions are satisfied, the waiver of the waiting period for the second motion will be in the discretion of the concerned Court. [Amardeep Singh v. Harveen Kaur,  2017 SCC OnLine SC 1073, decided on 12.09.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: After conducting a 6-day hearing during summer vacations, the historic verdict on the validity of Triple Talaq is out and this is what the 5-judge Constitution Bench has held:

“In view of the different opinions recorded, by a majority of 3:2 the practice of ‘talaq-e-biddat’ – triple talaq is set aside.”

The 395-pages long judgment begins with the dissenting opinion of JS Khehar, CJ and SA Nazeer, J where the judges asked the Union of India to consider appropriate legislation, particularly with reference to ‘talaq-e-biddat’ and requested the different political parties to keep their individual political gains apart, while considering the necessary measures requiring legislation. CJI, writing the judgment for himself and Nazeer, J said that till the time a law comes into force, the Muslim husbands should be injuncted from pronouncing ‘talaq-e-biddat’ as a means for severing their matrimonial relationship. The instant injunction will be operative for a period of six months and if the legislative process commences before the expiry of the period of six months, and a positive decision emerges towards redefining ‘talaq-ebiddat’ (three pronouncements of ‘talaq’, at one and the same time) – as one, or alternatively, if it is decided that the practice of ‘talaq-e-biddat’ be done away with altogether, the injunction would continue, till legislation is finally enacted. Failing which, the injunction shall cease to operate.

Stating that while examining issues falling in the realm of religious practices or ‘personal law’, it is not for a court to make a choice of something which it considers as forward looking or non-fundamentalist, the 2 judges said,

“It is not for a court to determine whether religious practices were prudent or progressive or regressive. Religion and ‘personal law’, must be perceived, as it is accepted, by the followers of the faith. And not, how another would like it to be.”

CJI and Nazeer, J also took note of the fact that the AIMPLB has undertaken to issue an advisory through its website, to advise those who enter into a matrimonial alliance, to agree in the ‘nikah-nama’, that their marriage would not be dissolvable by ‘talaq-e-biddat’.

Nariman, J, writing down the majority judgment for himself and Lalit, J noted that given the fact that Triple Talaq is instant and irrevocable, it is obvious that any attempt at reconciliation between the husband and wife by two arbiters from their families, which is essential to save the marital tie, cannot ever take place. It was held that this form of Talaq is manifestly arbitrary in the sense that the marital tie can be broken capriciously and whimsically by a Muslim man without any attempt at reconciliation so as to save it. This form of Talaq must, therefore, be held to be violative of the fundamental right contained under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Court, hence, held that the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, insofar as it seeks to recognize and enforce Triple Talaq, is within the meaning of the expression “laws in force” in Article 13(1) and must be struck down as being void to the extent that it recognizes and enforces Triple Talaq. After going through the Hanafi jurisprudence, the Court noticed that very jurisprudence castigates Triple Talaq as being sinful. The Court said that Triple Talaq is a form of Talaq which is itself considered to be something innovative, namely, that it is not in the Sunna, being an irregular or heretical form of Talaq, it was held that:

“the fundamental nature of the Islamic religion, as seen through an Indian Sunni Muslim’s eyes, will not change without this practice.”

It was, hence, held that Triple Talaq was not a part of Article 25(1) of the Constitution and hence, the Muslim Personal Board that the ball must be bounced back to the legislature does not hold good as Article 25(2)(b) would only apply if a particular religious practice is first covered under Article 25(1) of the Constitution.

Joseph, J, writing down a separate judgment but agreeing with the majority opinion, said,

“Merely because a practice has continued for long, that by itself cannot make it valid if it has been expressly declared to be impermissible.”

He said that the purpose of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 was to declare Shariat as the rule of decision and to discontinue anti-Shariat practices with respect to subjects enumerated in Section 2 which include talaq and therefore, in any case, after the introduction of the 1937 Act, no practice against the tenets of Quran is permissible and hence, there cannot be any Constitutional protection to such a practice. [Shayara Bano v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 963, decided on 22.08.2017]