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With most states on board, the Union law ministry has cleared a proposal to amend a 147-year-old legal provision that compels Christian couples to wait for at least two years for divorce. The period of separation is one year for other religions.
The ministry has decided to reduce the waiting period from two years to one year in cases of divorce by mutual consent of Christian couples after taking note of a clutch of cases in the Supreme Court and high courts challenging the discriminatory provision in the Divorce Act, 1869.
The period of separation is one year in other statutes such as the Special Marriage Act, Hindu Marriage Act and Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act. But Section 10A (1) of the 1869 Act, under which Christians file for divorce, states that a petition for dissolution of marriage in Christians by mutual consent can be presented before a court only after a judicial separation of two years.
Buoyed by favourable comments received from 24 states and Union territories, the law ministry has gone ahead with its proposal to amend the Act and reduce the period of judicial separation. “This proposal (reduction of period of separation) would bring uniformity with other personal laws and also equality before the law as mandated under Article 14 of the Constitution,” a law ministry note, accessed by The Indian Express, has stated.
The ministry has also opted to amend the 1869 Act in order to enable any of the spouses domiciled in India to file petition for divorce. The law as it stands today 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.
Further, another amendment to Section 2 of the Act proposes to enable a woman to present the divorce petition to the district court within whose jurisdiction she ordinarily resides whereas the existing provision mandates that a petition can be filed only where the marriage was solemnised or where the couple reside or last resided together.
Therefore, apart from bringing down the period of judicial separation to bring uniformity with other laws, the proposed amendments have also considered making it less cumbersome for women to file for divorce with mutual consent or otherwise. The law ministry’s proposal is to be presented before the Cabinet in its next meeting.