Divorce Law in India

Divorce is a very traumatic occurrence for any individual or couple, and the law can only intervene to regulate how the separation between man and woman must take place. In India, most things connected to marriage and family are governed by religions laws. Divorce among Hindus, including Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, is governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Christians by the Indian Divorce Act, 1869; Parsis by the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; and Muslims by the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939.
Civil marriages and inter-community marriages and divorces are governed by the Special Marriage Act, 1956.

What are the various reasons for divorce recognized by law?

The law will not permit you to get a divorce merely because you are bored of looking at the same face, or because you find someone else more interesting. Some ‘grounds’ have been laid down in law.

One common ground is ‘adultery’ or extramarital sex. Although a valid ground among Hindus, Christian law does not allow a woman to sever ties only because of adultery. Another ground is ‘desertion’, which has been defined as either spouse refusing to cohabit, without just and reasonable cause, for a period of three years. A third recognized reason is cruelty, which is physical and mental abuse and neglect. The last two reasons are a chronic disease affecting either spouse (which can include a sexually transmitted disease, leprosy or a mental ailment) and impotency.

In India, a couple can also get a divorce by mutual consent, where both parties want the marriage to end. The law gives them one year to reconcile their differences, and if at the end of one year, they cannot resolve their differences, the marriage is ended by mutual consent.

How does a person get a divorce?

The law also outlines a procedure which must be followed before you can get a divorce.

Adultery. While no formal definition of adultery exists, it does have “a fairly established meaning in matrimonial law”, namely “the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married man or woman with a person other than the offender’s wife or husband”. While the law considers it valid grounds for either sex, it is often felt that adulterous women are judged more harshly than men.

The various religious regulations are not unanimous on this issue. Hindus are allowed divorce on the grounds of infidelity of either husband or wife. The Christian law, however, would traditionally not have granted a divorce to a woman solely on the grounds of adultery. She would have had to prove another violation, such as cruelty .A recent Bombay High Court decision “recognised cruelty and desertion as independent grounds for the dissolution of a Christian marriage,” striking down a section of the law that allowed for an unconstitutional distinction between the sexes.

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