Despite 24 states supporting a proposal to halve the separation period for Christian couples seeking divorce by mutual consent, the bill for the purpose has missed its date with Parliament.
Despite 24 states supporting a proposal to halve the separation period for Christian couples seeking divorce by mutual consent, the bill for the purpose has missed its date with Parliament. The bill to amend the 149-year-old Christian Marriage Act could not be introduced in the just-concluded Budget session of Parliament.
The government had informed Lok Sabha in May 2016 that it has decided to amend Section 10 A of the 1869 Act to reduce the minimum mandatory period of separation from two years to one year to bring parity with other personal laws. The move followed a Supreme Court ruling and demands by the community. The Kerala high court had earlier “read down” the provision of two year separation period.
The Law Ministry’s Legislative Department had sought the states’ views on the issue as the amendment related to the personal law. Twenty four states and UTs had supported the proposal. “Yes, we have to amend the law but it could not be placed before the Cabinet as we had to seek views of the states… it may come up in the next session of Parliament… the issues related to marriage laws and those in the concurrent list do take time,” a senior law ministry official said.
The separation period under 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 delivered two years ago and demands by the community members, 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 Union Law Ministry has also proposed to amend the law to allow any of the spouses domiciled in India to file a petition for divorce.
As of now, the law requires both husband and wife to be domiciled in India when the petition for dissolution of marriage is to be presented before a district court. According to another proposed amendment, a woman can present the divorce petition to the district court within whose jurisdiction she ordinarily resides. As the law stands today, a petition can be filed only where the marriage ceremony was held or where the couple had last resided together.