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Nullity Of Marriage Under SMA,1954

Our society places a great deal of importance on marriage as an institution. The two parties are rendered legally bound, and rights and obligations are established. A marriage that has been solemnised and registered in accordance with the Special Marriage Act of 1954 is also a lawful marriage.

A decree of nullity must be acquired by the appropriate court in cases where a marriage, even one that has been registered under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, is void from the start. According to Section 24 of the Special Marriage Act of 1954, such unions are known as void marriages and are legally recognised. In some situations, a party could desire to dissolve a marriage even when it is legal. These unions are known as voidable marriages and are covered under Section 25 of the Special Marriage Act of 1954.

Void Marriages
Some marriages are null and void from the very beginning. These marriages have no foundation at all, thus there is no need to examine the facts to determine whether they are valid. A party does not need to present any more proof to the court if the court determines that their marriage is invalid after they have filed a petition.

Simply declaring the facts and issuing the annulment decree would be all that the court would be doing. Section 24(1) of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 specifies the reasons why a marriage is null and void.

Grounds:
  1. A marriage is void if one or both of the parties violates any of the conditions outlined in Sections 4(a) through 4(d) of the Special Marriage Act of 1954.

    The following criteria are listed:
    1. Prior to marriage, neither party should be cohabiting with a spouse.
    2. Neither partner should have a mental illness that would prevent them from continuing a marriage or having children, or experience recurrent episodes of insanity. They should also not be unable of giving a legal consent at the moment of marriage due to being of unsound mind.
    3. The male should be at least 21 years old, and the female should be at least 18 years old.
    4. Neither party should fit into any of the classifications of prohibited relationships.
       
  2. Impotence:
    If the respondent was incapable of reproducing at the time of the marriage or the filing of the lawsuit, the marriage would be deemed null and void. Here, the party seeking relief has the burden of proof. It is the obligation of the aggrieved party to establish that the marriage could not have taken place due to the impotence of their spouse.

    According to Section 24(2), unless the registration violated the terms outlined in Section 15(a) to (e) of the SMA, 1954, any marriage that has been solemnised within the meaning of Section 18, SMA 1954, which describes the effect of registration of marriage, shall not be affected by anything contained in Section 24.

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 stipulates the following terms in Section 15:
A ceremonial performance
The parties to the marriage have already conducted the ceremony and have been cohabitating as husband and wife ever since.

Adultery
When the marriage is registered, neither parties to the marriage should have any other partner alive.

Insanity
At the time of registration, both parties to the marriage should be mentally sound. None of them ought to be a lunatic or an idiot.

Age
At the time of the marriage's registration, the male should have reached the age of 21 and the female should have reached the age of 18.

Prohibited relationship
The parties to the marriage should not be in any of the forbidden relationships listed in Schedule I of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 to any degree.

Proviso:
If an appeal has been filed under Section 17 of the SMA, 1954, and the district court's ruling has become final, neither party may declare that their marriage is null and void.

The applicant in Prafulla Bala Biswas v. Ila Das and Anr. I (1997) DMC 448 was the mother of respondent's husband who had been wed to the respondent under the Special Marriage Act of 1954. Due to her son's impotence at the time of the marriage and the fact that the union was never consummated, the petitioner claimed the marriage was void-ab initio.

According to N. Bhattacharjee, J., Section 24(1)(ii) of the SMA, 1954 prohibits third parties from contesting the legality of marriage on the grounds of impotence. Only the parties to the marriage are eligible to use this ground. As a result, the appeal was denied.

Voidable Marriages
Marriages that are voidable are those that remain legal until one of the two parties decides to annul it because it violates Section 25 of the SMA, 1954. In a legal proceeding, either party may ask for the annulment of the marriage. If the party seeking to annul the marriage's petition is unsuccessful, it will still be a legitimate marriage. Even if a spouse passes away while the petition is pending, the marriage will still be recognised as lawful.

The Special Marriage Act of 1954, Section 25, lists the following reasons why a marriage may be voidable:
  1. Wilful rejection
    The other party's wilful refusal to engage in sexual activity with his or her spouse may be a good reason to ask the appropriate court with jurisdiction for an annulment.
     
  2. Pregnancy:
    The petitioner may get an annulment if he discovers that the responder was already pregnant when they were married to someone else.

    But this argument could fall short if:
    • The petitioner knew of the alleged allegations.
    • The legal action was started more than a year after the wedding.
    • The petitioner and respondent have not engaged in marital sexual intercourse since the claimed facts were learned.
       
  3. Consent that was gained under coercion or fraud:
    A decree of annulment may be requested by either party on the grounds that the assent of the parties to the marriage was not voluntary and was instead gained by threats or by concealing important material information to persuade the other party to join into the marriage. But he/she may not be successful in obtaining the decree of annulment if:
    • Despite the fraud's exposure or the cessation of the coercion,
    • The aggrieved party did not file the lawsuit within a year of the discovery or termination; or
    • Out of his or her own free choice, the offended party continued to reside with the other party.

In the case of Jolly Das (Smt) Alias Moulick v. Tapan Ranjan Das (1994) 4 SCC 36, the appellant claimed that the respondent obtained her signature on blank forms under the pretence that she was submitting an application for a music competition and then fraudulently registered the marriage under the Special Marriage Act of 1954. The Learned Additional District judge ruled that this marriage was null and void after the appellant requested an annulment under Section 25(iii). The Calcutta High Court, however, overruled the judgement.

As a result of the District Court's ruling being affirmed and the marriage being deemed null and void in accordance with Section 25(iii) of the SMA, 1954, the aggrieved appellant subsequently sought redress from the Apex court.

In the case of Payal Choudhury v. Pardip Das (F.A. 43 of 1998), the boy pretended to be a successful businessman, the girl fell in love with him, and they were wed in accordance with the Special Marriage Act of 1954. She later discovered that the boy had lied to her about his financial status after the marriage, when he refused to take her to their new home. Invoking Section 25, the appellant sought annulment (iii). The Hon'ble Guwahati High Court made a ruling in favour of the applicant and pronounced this marriage to be a sham.

Children Born Out Of Void And Voidable Marriages
The Special Marriage Act of 1954's Section 26 discusses the legality of children born in void or voidable marriages. According to clause 1 of this section, a child born in a null marriage would still be considered a legitimate kid. The legitimacy of the kid will not be impacted by the annulment of a null marriage.

In a similar vein, clause 2 provides that it will not affect the legitimacy of the child, if a child is born out of a voidable marriage before the marriage has been declared void by an order of the competent court. The youngster would be regarded as legitimate. The child of a null or voidable marriage has a right to their parents' assets under clause 3 of this provision. It does not, however, grant him ownership of anyone else's possessions.

With regard to K. Santhosha v. Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation [WRIT APPEAL No.2495/2019 (S RES)], the Hon'ble Karnataka High Court stated that "no child is born in this world without a father and a mother" when deciding the petitioner's legal status under Section 26 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

Conclusion
Under sections 24 and 25 of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 prevent spouses from entering into a partnership that is founded on deceit, fraud, or any other circumstance that falls under the purview of those provisions. It helps individuals who have been wronged, sets the couple free, and allows them the chance to leave marriages that are either null and void from the start or that the appropriate court can pronounce such marriage null and void. While Sections 24 and 25 of the SMA, 1954 defend the rights of the spouses, section 26 protects the rights of children born in void or voidable marriages.

Reference Links:
  • https://www.thelawcodes.com/divorce-lawyers-in-chandigarh/
  • https://www.thelawcodes.com/nullity-of-marriage-under-sma-1954/
Written By: Ameesha Goel

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