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Annulment Of Marriage Under Hindu Law

Annulment of Marriage

As per Legal terminology, the term annulment refers to making a marriage null and void/voidable; in case the marriage is void ab initio (which means the marriage is considered to be invalid from its inception), then it shall be automatically null, even though the statement of nullity is required to be established.

Annulment is a legal process for declaration of marriage null and void. It can only be stated null and void if certain legal requirements were not met at the time of the marriage and then it is considered to have been never existed, legally. Such a process is known as annulment which is very different from divorce. The clear distinction between annulment and divorce is that annulment refers to a marriage which is never existed at all whereas divorce dissolves the marriage.

Basics of an Annulment:

Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, there are some conditions laid down for a Hindu Marriage must be fulfilled in case of any marriage between two Hindus can be solemnized following the requirements of this Act.

Grounds for annulment

The grounds for a marriage annulment are varied to the different jurisdictions but are limited to fraud, bigamy, blood relationship, and mental incompetence and includes the following situations as well:
  • Any of the spouses was already married to someone at the time of the marriage
  • Any of the spouses was young to get marriage or marries without the consent of parents/court;
  • Any of the spouses was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage;
  • Any of the spouses was mentally incompetent;
  • If the consent was obtained through fraud or force;
  • Any of the spouses was physically incompetent to get married (basically he is unable to have sexual intercourse);
  • The spouse who is sentenced for a life term imprisonment.

Void Marriages: How can it be annulled?

As per Section 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which deals with void marriages described as the marriage solemnized after the commencement of the Act shall be null and void and become null and void by presenting a petition through any of the party based on the above-mentioned grounds.

Concept of Bigamy:

In case any of the spouses was still legally married to another person at the time of the marriage to the other spouse then the marriage is considered to be void and no requirement for applying the annulment before the court is mandatory. In M.M. Malhotra v. Union of India, the court held that the husband married a woman during the subsistence of his first marriage. Such marriage being null and void, his subsequent marriage to another woman would not be the case of plural marriage.

Who can seek Annulment?

Any party to the marriage can file an application for the annulment for declaration of the marriage as null and void. However, this is just a procedure to be brought on record before the court and is done as a precaution so that in the future, no question of void marriage can be called.

Voidable Marriages: How can it be annulled?

A voidable marriage is basically a legal marriage that can be canceled by any one of the parties to the marriage and is contested in the court on the basis of the below mentioned follows:
  • No consummation of marriage because of incapacity of the partner
  • Any of the spouse did not provide the free consent to it or in the consequence of mistake, unsoundness, etc.
  • Any of the spouses is a mentally disordered person but has given the valid consent for marriage and that person falls under the ambit of the Mental Disorders Ordinance 1952 Act.;
  • Any of the spouse is suffering from venereal disease which is in a communicable form;
  • The wife is pregnant with some other person at the time of marriage.


Who can seek Annulment?

Below are the parties who can file the petition before the concerned court for the annulment of the marriage:
  • In case the petitioner gives any consent for more than a year after the fraud committed by the other person.
  • In case, the wife is pregnant with some other person at the time of marriage and the person to the marriage is not aware of the happening.

Annulment Process

Basically, the process of annulment of marriage is not a common process therefore a person applying for the annulment has to meet the residency requirement where he/she is staying. Thereafter the person can file the petition where he was born, the marriage was solemnized, or has been living together and has to stay for a continuous 90 days period before applying. The procedure for the annulment is almost similar to the divorce proceedings and can be filed by any party. However, divorce is considered to be the most complicated process as compared to the annulment.

Effects of Annulment Marriage:

Annulling a marriage deletes all things from the records as if it never took place before. The outcome of a marriage annulment is a decree that the marriage never existed. It nullifies the marriage, returning the parties to their status before existed before marriage. Itís a very usual misinterpretation that short marriages can be annulled, but the length of the marriage is not a measuring factor. Many times, annulments occur even after very short marriages, so there is no need to distribute the property between the parties or to decide the custody of children produced by the marriage. In the case of a long marriage that is annulled, the court will distribute the property of the parties.

Legitimacy of Children after the Annulment of Marriage:

If a child is born out of wedlock which is subsequently declared to be null and void, that child will not be considered illegitimate but he shall be considered legitimate despite the marriage being illegal from its inception. The section provides a cushion to the children of void marriages and prevents them from being bastardized.

Rights of Children to Property Inheritance after Annulment of Marriage

  1. The status of legitimacy, that is declared by section 16, is part of the incidence of birth.
     
  2. The children born in a void or voidable marriage should be legitimate. If they were declared legitimate, then they cannot be discriminated against and they will be on a par with other legitimate children and be entitled to all the rights in the property of their parents, both self-acquired and ancestral.
     
  3. The deemed status of legitimacy entitles such children to inherit and demand partition of only the properties of their parents and excludes any other properties. In the case of joint family property, such children will be entitled only to a share in their parents' property but they cannot claim it in their own right. Logically, on the partition of ancestral property, the property falling in the share of the parents of such children are regarded as their self-acquired and absolute property.

Right of Claiming Maintenance by a Woman after Annulment of Marriage

Unilateral divorcees (wives) whose marriages stand terminated by acts of their husbands and persons whose marriages have been terminated by intervention of Courts at the instance of either spouse, are certainly included within the sweep of the inclusive definition of "Wife". The Legislature by the bold intervention included women of such terminated marriages also within the sweep of the expression "wife" subject to an important condition that they should not have re-married.

The issue of the right to maintenance under Section 25 of the Act, to a woman whose marriage is in contravention with Section 5(i) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, and has been declared null and void by a court has been faced by various High Courts as well as the Supreme Court, and the courts have given different views depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

The Supreme Court in the matter of Smt. Yamunabai Anantrao Adhav A vs. Ranantrao Shivram Adhav And Ors. discussed the issue of granting maintenance and accordingly held:
that the marriage of a woman following the Hindu rites with a man having a living spouse is a complete nullity in the eye of law and she is not entitled to the benefit of section 125 of the CrPC.

However, various High Courts have observed and it is a generally accepted rule that even in such cases, that the wife is entitled to maintenance under sec. 18 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 and under section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Thus, such children would be regarded in law as legitimate children of the parents for all purposes including succession. In Sarda Ram v. Durga Bai, it is now established that such children can inherit the separate property of their father under Section 8, Hindu Succession Act, but could not lay any claim on the coparcenary interest of the father. Son of such a marriage has no birthright in the Hindu Joint family property

Maintenance:

Another important question that often arises is whether the wife whose marriage is void under section 11 of the Act can claim maintenance from her husband of that void marriage. The Supreme Court has held that where a marriage is void, a wife cannot claim maintenance under Sec. 488 CrPC, sec 125 under the Act of 1976. However, it is a generally accepted rule that even in such cases, the wife is entitled to maintenance under sec. 18 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act,1956 and also under section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955.

Conclusion:

There are two ways to legally end a marriage (a) annulment (b) divorce. It can be initiated by either the husband or the wife in the marriage. A marriage that is void ab initio does not alter or affect the status of the parties nor does it creates between them any rights and obligations which must normally arise from a valid marriage except for such rights as are expressly recognized by the Act. Avoidable marriage remains valid and binding and continues to subsist for all purposes unless a decree is passed by the court annulling the same on any of the grounds mentioned in Section 12.

Written By: Tanya Khan

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