Christian couples’ wait for two years for seeking divorce by mutual consent may soon end as a nearly 150-year-old law is set to be amended to lower the requisite separation period to one year following persistent demand from the community. The government has put the Divorce (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the ‘tentative list of government legislative and financial business’ expected to be taken up during the winter session of Parliament beginning November 16.
However, the proposal to amend the provisions dealing with Christian marriages is yet to be cleared by the Union Cabinet.
According to the Law Ministry proposal, the Divorce Act, 1869 would be amended to halve the separation period for couples from the present two years to one year before they can file for divorce by mutual consent to bring it at par with laws governing other communities.
The separation period under the Hindu Marriage Act, Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act and the Special Marriage Act is one year.
Section 10A(1) of the Divorce Act, added through an amendment in 2001, says that a couple seeking divorce should be living separately for a period of “two years or more”.
Against the backdrop of a Supreme Court order in April last and persistent demands by members of the community, the Law Ministry has decided to move the proposal to reduce the separation period.
Questioning the existing law, the Supreme Court had urged the Centre to make necessary amendments.
“Should Christians stay separated for minimum two years when the period prescribed for others is one year? It does not make sense to us. It is a pure question of law and you (government) should have acted on your own,” a bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and A M Sapre had observed.
The bench delivered the order on a petition filed by a Delhi resident.
Some high courts have also struck down the provision of two-year separation.
The ministry has also proposed another amendment in the law to enable any of the spouses living in India to file for divorce. As of now, both husband and wife should be living in India when the petition for dissolution of marriage is moved.
Also, if the law is amended, then it will allow a woman to move the divorce petition in the district court within whose jurisdiction she ordinarily resides. As per the existing provisions, a petition can be filed only where the marriage was solemnised or where the couple reside or last resided together.
The Law Commission had on several occasions in the past recommended amendments to the Divorce Act to make it more women-friendly.