No limitation to nullify void marriages under Special Marriage Act
Swapnanjali Sandeep Patil Vs Sandeep Ananda Patil
ARISING OUT OF SLP (C) NO.25080 OF 2016
About/from the judgment:
In a judgment delivered yesterday, the Supreme Court observed that there is no limitation period under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 for presenting a petition to declare a “void marriage”, in terms Section 24, a nullity.
This can be gleaned from a combined reading of Section 4 and Section 24 of the Special Marriage Act. Section 4 deals with pre-conditions for the solemnisation of marriages under the Act. Among other pre-conditions, this provision lays down that no marriage can be solemnised if either party has a living spouse at the time of the proposed marriage.
Section 24 deals with void marriages. As per this section, if any of the pre-conditions laid down in Section 4 are violated, the marriage would be void. Any aggrieved party may also present a petition to declare such a marriage a nullity.
The Bench has now clarified that a petition to declare such a marriage, which violates Section 4 of the Act, as a nullity may be presented at any time. The Bench pointed out,
“… considering Section 24 read with Section 4 of the [Special Marriage] Act, if at the time of marriage either of the party has spouse living, then the said marriage is a void marriage and a decree of nullity can be passed on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party.
No period of limitation is prescribed so far as presentation of petition for declaration to declare a marriage being nullity/void marriage, under Section 24 of the Act and rightly so, as once the marriage is void the same is a nullity and at any time the same can be declared as nullity being a void marriage.“
The appellant in the case before the High Court had sought annulment of an inter-caste marriage that she had entered into in 2010. As per the appellant/wife, her husband (respondent) had suppressed the fact of his first marriage from the appellant. The appellant claimed that she only got to know of this first marriage when she was moving out of the marital home in 2012 owing to the abuse meted out by her husband.
In view of these submissions, the appellant sought to annul her marriage. She based her prayer, inter alia, on the claim that the husband had a living spouse at the time of entering into a marriage with her.
The husband/respondent, however, disputed these allegations. He contended that the appellant was fully aware of his first marriage before she got married to him. Moreover, he also claimed that he had carried out a customary divorce before entering into the second marriage.
Both the trial court and the Bombay High Court had declined to allow the prayer made by the appellant/wife, on the ground that she was barred by limitation from pursuing any relief. These rulings were based on a reading of Section 25 of the Special Marriage Act, which deals with voidable marriages.
Inter alia, obtaining consent for marriage by fraud is a ground for declaring a marriage null and void under Section 25. However, the aggrieved spouse has to institute proceedings to declare such a marriage void within a year after the fraud is discovered, to avail the relief under this provision.
On the other hand, no such limitation period has been laid down when it comes to void marriages under Section 24 of the Act. Agreeing with the submissions advanced by advocate Vinay Navare for the appellant, the Court noted that the lower courts ought to have considered Section 24 of the Act in the case before it, and not Section 25.
On applying this provision, the Court concluded that the appellant was entitled to the relief sought for as the marriage was a void one in terms of Section 24. The Court, therefore, set aside the lower court rulings and allowed the appeal.
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