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Children Of Invalid Marriages Have Right Only In Parent's Property: A Step In The Right Direction?

The Supreme Court, recently held that children born out of void and voidable marriages cannot inherit in the joint family property and can only acquire the separate or self-acquired property of their parents, in a Hindu Mitakshara joint family.

The said judgement was delivered by a three judge bench comprising of the Chief Justice of India, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra in the case of Revanasiddappa & Anr. vs Mallikarjun & Ors. 2023 INSC783.

The need for the aforesaid judgement arose due to conflicting views of the earlier two prime judgements.

In the case of Jinia Keotin v Kumar Sitaram Manjhi, (2003) 1 SCC 730, the Supreme Court held that a child born out of a void or voidable marriage cannot be put at par with a child born of a valid marriage, and consequently, he/she cannot inherit in the joint family property but only in the separate property of their parents.

Whereas, in the case of Revanasiddappa v Mallikarjun, (2011) 11 SCC 1, the apex court took a contrasting view, and observed that, the legislature, in section 16, has used the term, "property" without demarcating it as either self-acquired or joint family property, and that a child born of such void or voidable marriage, is completely innocent, and thus, should be entitled to all rights given to other children. The court further, quoted Article 39(f) of the Constitution of India, which mandates the states to ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner, to support its reasoning.

Effect of this judgement
Now, by holding that such children cannot inherit in the joint family property and can only acquire the separate property of their parents, the apex court has taken a step in the right direction, in harmonising the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 with Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Children born out of void and voidable marriages under Section 11 or Section 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 are generally not entitled to inherit joint family property under the Mitakshara Coparcenary system. Thus, children born of bigamous marriages, or marriages based upon fraud which are later annulled by courts, are by virtue of Section 16(3), entitled to inherit only the property of their parents and no other relatives.

The court stated that to ascertain the share of such child, the first step would be to do a notional partition, as per Section 6(3) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, to ascertain the separate shares of the parents. Now, this share would be the separate property of the parents and would be divided amongst the heirs including the children of void or voidable marriage, as per the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

The recent judgment deserves appreciation for its significant clarification regarding the distinction between statutorily legitimate children and children born out of a valid wedlock. This landmark decision underscores the crucial concept that offspring born within a valid marital union automatically assume the status of members within the larger joint family structure, as a coparcener.

Furthermore, they also assume the role of representatives within this family unit and may potentially ascend to the position of Karta, who holds substantial authority and responsibilities within the family.

This clarification is indispensable because it underscores the importance of granting legitimacy to children born within the confines of a lawful marriage. Failing to do so would be more of an injustice to the children of valid marriages than justice to children born from marriages that may be considered void or voidable under the law.

The judgment, in essence, seeks to strike a delicate balance that ensures fairness and equity within the context of family law, where the status of children can have far-reaching legal and social implications.

Furthermore, it is imperative to acknowledge that this landmark judgment adds to deterrence for void and voidable marriages. By equating a statutory legitimate child with a perfectly legitimate child, it would create a devastating impact on the importance of the institution of marriage as a whole and would further mock the essential requirements of a valid Hindu Marriage as per Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which have long served as the bedrock of legal marital unions within the Hindu community.

Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that matrimonial offenses, such as Bigamy, have not been subjected to the gravity of legal scrutiny they rightfully deserve. Granting full legitimacy to children born from such marriages would, in essence, inadvertently embolden those who engage in these practices, ultimately undermining the very essence of matrimonial law and the sanctity of marriage as a social institution.

In totality, the apex court's verdict is a step in the right direction in upholding the right of children born of valid marriages in a Mitakshara Hindu Joint Family, while balancing the rights of the children born of void and voidable marriages, meanwhile taking a correct interpretation of the statute, particularly, Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. All in all, this is a welcome judgement.

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