This article has been written by Naveen Talawar, a student at Karnataka State Law University’s Law School. The article deals with Section 14 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which prohibits filing a divorce petition with the court before a year has passed since the date of marriage. Further, the article deals with its scope, application, exceptions, and judicial pronouncements.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
Marriage, according to all matrimonial laws, is the union of a man and a woman that imposes certain marital duties and confers certain legal rights on each of them. It was regarded as a samskara, or holy sacrament, in ancient Hindu law. The idea of divorce was not present because marriage was thought to be a union divine in nature. Divorce is not mentioned in either of the Smritis or in the Vedic texts. When two people were united through the sacramental ceremony of marriage, there was no such thing as separation or divorce; instead, they were bound to abide by the laws and rules that were imposed on them as part of the institution of marriage.
However, marriage as we understand it today is entirely different. The couples start thinking about getting a divorce whenever there is a disagreement between them. As a result, Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 was enacted, which states that no divorce can be filed within a year of marriage in order to prevent hastily made mistakes and poor decisions.
The Hindu Marriage Act permits divorce on the grounds of dissatisfaction or if the marriage can no longer be maintained. Normally, a divorce petition can only be filed after the completion of one year of marriage. A court may, however, permit a petition to be filed earlier than one year in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when the petitioner is harmed or the respondent is mentally unstable. Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, prohibits the filing of a divorce petition within the first year of marriage. Since temperamental differences between the partners can be resolved over time and should not be used as grounds for divorce, it establishes a window for reconsideration and reconciliation.
Scope of Section 14 of Hindu Marriage Act,1955
Section 14 establishes the principle of a fair trial, which states that provisions of law that are advisory rather than mandatory in nature can be said to be complied with if there is sufficient, rather than absolute, compliance with those provisions of law. Although Section 14(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act begins with a non-obstante clause (a non-obstante clause is added to a provision to support its enforceability over another provision that conflicts with it), the provision to that subsection changes the nature of the provision of law so that it is “directory” rather than “mandatory.” Once a provision of law is directory in nature, as previously stated, what is to be seen is sufficient and/or ample compliance with the provision of law, not strict compliance with the relevant provision of law.
This Section states that no court shall entertain a divorce petition before the one-year of the marriage. Before the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976, no court could entertain a divorce petition three years from the date of marriage; however, the aforementioned Amendment Act reduced the waiting period to one year.
The Section also states that in cases of exceptional hardship to the petitioner or exceptional depravity on the part of the respondent, the court may consider a petition even before the passing of a year. If it is discovered that the leave was obtained through misrepresentation or withholding of information, the court has the discretion to dismiss the main petition or postpone the implementation of the decree for a year from the date of marriage.
The court shall also consider the interests of any children born of the marriage and the likelihood of a peaceful reconciliation between the parties while deciding an application made under Section 14(2).
Subject matter of Section 14 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
According to Section 14, a divorce petition cannot be filed within the first year of marriage. Therefore, one year might be seen as the time allotted by the law for resolving, classifying, comprehending, and communicating problems with one another. Therefore, until a year has passed, no court may hear a divorce petition. The Court may permit the petition to be presented after receiving an application in accordance with the rules of the High Court in cases of exceptional hardship to the petitioner or great depravity on the part of the respondent. However, the court may decide to dismiss the petition without prejudice if it finds that there has been a misrepresentation of facts or concealment of the nature of the matter after hearing the petition.
No divorce petition within a year of marriage
The rules enumerated in this Section are meant to give each marriage a fair chance to succeed. The general rule established in Section 14(1) is that until the one-year period specified by this Section has passed, the court cannot entertain a petition for a decree of divorce based on any of the grounds specified in Section 13 for divorce. Apart from exceptional cases covered by the proviso, the court would have no jurisdiction to entertain any such petition before the statutory period expired.
Section 14(1) states that no petition for dissolution of marriage may be presented to the court unless one year has passed since the date of marriage. According to Derrett, “this one-year period is illusory. It is woefully inadequate given that, in Indian circumstances, animosity within the first year is frequently caused by “in-law” and dowry manoeuvring rather than other factors. The “in-law” problem will, without a doubt, be resolved over time, especially in the beginning.” However, it is argued that the one-year embargo does not mean that divorce will be possible after a year but rather that the aggrieved spouse will be able to file for divorce after that time period has passed.
In the case of Meganatha Nayagar v. Shrimathi Susheela (1957), the Madras High Court noted that Section 14 contains restrictions presumably intended to prevent parties’ recourse to legal proceedings before they have made sincere efforts to save their marriage from dissolution. The objective is to prevent hasty legal action taken by spouses without giving them enough time to adjust and give their marriage a trial. It is based on public policy because marriage is the cornerstone of civil society, and no part of the laws and constitution of a country can be more crucial to its citizens than the rules governing the manner and conditions of forming and, if necessary, dissolving marriage contracts.
Provision is only directory and not mandatory
The requirement in Section 14 that there must be a year between the date of marriage and the filing of a divorce petition is only a directory, not mandatory. Section 14 opens the door to reconsideration and reconciliation. It acknowledges that temperamental differences between the parties can be addressed over time and should not be used to end a marriage. The mandatory one-year period provided by the Section encourages couples to calm down and reconsider their marriage in order to save it.
In the case of Rabindra Nath Mukherjee v. Iti Mukherjee (1991), the husband filed a suit against his wife on the ground of cruelty under Section 13 of the Act. The trial court dismissed the petition on the grounds that it was filed just a few days before the completion of one year from the date of marriage, in violation of the provisions of Section 14(1). In an appeal to the Calcutta High Court, it was determined that the provision is not mandatory.
In Indumathi v. Krishnamurthy (1998), it was held by the Madras High Court that if a petition for divorce is filed within one year of the marriage, that is, within a few days of the marriage, without any application under Section 14 seeking leave of court to entertain the divorce petition, then there is no harm in entertaining such an application by the court because Section 14(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, is only directory in nature, and by filing a subsequent application there is considerable adherence.
The High Court of Delhi ruled in Sankalp Singh v. Prarthana Chandra (2013) that the court may permit a petition to be filed before one year of the marriage in certain circumstances of unusual hardship or depravity on the part of the respondent.
Discretion of the court
The proviso confers discretion on the court. The court may allow such a petition to be presented pending a preliminary determination of the matter. The first issue that would come up is whether the situation falls under the category of “exceptional depravity” or “exceptional hardship.” If the case fits into one of the aforementioned categories, the court may, at its discretion, allow the petition to be presented. The court has the discretion to decide whether to grant leave under this Section and whether to grant an ex parte order. If the court decides to grant leave, it must first determine if there is a chance that the parties will reconcile. Furthermore, the court must consider the interests of any children of the marriage during this preliminary stage of granting leave, as expressly provided in Section 14(2).
The possibility of reconciliation is a crucial factor in all applications for divorce. If there is a child from the marriage, the interests of the child should be a very important factor to take into account. The appellate court will not interfere with the district court’s discretion unless it followed the wrong legal principle, neglected to take into account a crucial factor, or committed a grave injustice. The proviso is meant to change the impact of the one-year limit in extremely rare circumstances. It enables the court in these situations to consider a petition for a divorce decree before the completion of the statutory period.
The procedure for requesting special leave to file such a petition will be governed by any rules the High Court may make in this regard. Rules regarding the application for special leave under the Section, service of the order granting leave ex parte, and the subsequent procedure have been developed by various courts in the event that the respondent desires to contest the divorce petition on the grounds that the leave for filing the petition has been improperly obtained or erroneously granted.
When leave is obtained by misrepresentation
The proviso also states that, even though the court may grant a divorce, it may suspend the decree’s effectiveness by adding a provision stating that it will not take effect until after the passing of a year. If it appears to the court during the hearing of the petition that leave had been granted and not revoked due to misrepresentation or concealment of the true nature of the case, the court will be satisfied that the grounds for relief exist. However, the court is not required to do so and may, at its discretion, completely reject the divorce petition. In this case, a petition may be filed on the same grounds after the time period specified in the Section has expired.
In Rabindra Nath Mukherjee v. Iti Mukherjee (1991), the court stated that when permission to file a petition within a year has been obtained through misrepresentation or concealment of the facts of the case, the court may, if it grants a divorce, delay the implementation of the decree until the end of the expiry of the period. The provision to Section 14(1) states that “the court may dismiss the petition,” but without prejudice to any petitions that may be brought after the expiration of one year. A leave obtained by suppressio veri (suppression of the truth) or suggestio falsi (suggestion of an untruth) should be treated as vitiated to the extent of being non-est.
Applicability of Section 14 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
This restriction only applies to divorce petitions that may be filed under Sections 13 or 13(B) of the Act; it does not apply to petitions filed under Section 12 seeking a decree declaring a marriage voidable on the basis of voidability.
In Ravulapalli Yogamma v. Thellamekala Venkata Ratnam (1998), the wife filed a petition for the dissolution of marriage on the grounds that there had been no consummation because of the husband’s impotence. It was denied by the trial court since the application was submitted within a year of the date of her marriage. Since the said court denied her request for a review, she appealed. Accepting the appeal, the Andhra Pradesh High Court determined that the Section only applies when a divorce decree is sought to dissolve a marriage, not when an annulment on specific grounds is sought.
Exceptional situations under Section 14 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
Although it is a good idea to prevent hasty divorces, the provision does not completely prohibit divorce petitions filed before the end of the first year of marriage. The provision of the Section comes to the aid of exceptional cases, and the court will decide on each case based on the merits because there may be difficult cases that justify early court adjudication. Exceptional circumstances could include:
- Exceptional hardship to the petitioner; or,
- Exceptional depravity on the part of the respondent.
The Act doesn’t define the terms “exceptional hardships” or “exceptional depravity.” These expressions cover a wide range of topics and are filled with extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, it would be possible to grant a divorce decree without waiting for the predetermined one-year period to pass in cases where the petitioner is experiencing so many hardships that life has become an absolute tragedy or the respondent has committed such a heinous moral offence that it has become completely intolerable to the petitioner.
The court must determine whether the allegations made in the petition are of such a nature that, if proven, they would constitute exceptional hardship or depravity. While doing so, it is anticipated that the court will decide the application based on the preliminary facts and contentions and will exercise its discretion in accordance with that decision. The term “exceptional hardship,” as used in the Section, can refer to allegations that, while speculative, may be sufficient to support a prayer for a divorce decree. The trial court must specify the reasons that it found to be of exceptional hardship in order to consider a petition for divorce filed within a year of the marriage.
Section 14 is based on public policy that adopted language similar to that found in the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950, in England, including the provision for reconciliation. Following Denning, L.J.’s observations in Bowman v. Bowman (1949), the Madras High Court stated in Meghanatha Nayagar v. Shrimathi Susheela (1956) that some general principles in English law can be used as a guide in determining what could be considered exceptional hardship or depravity:
- It was observed that the use of the word “exceptional” will determine the answer. This entails an investigation into the level of alleged depravity or hardship which, it is obvious, may prove to be a challenging task, or both. Naturally, adultery or cruelty are the only situations in which the issue is raised.
- Adultery committed by one of the spouses within a marriage may be regarded as ordinary depravity. It may not involve exceptional hardship on the innocent spouse.
- However, if the adultery is combined with other matrimonial offences, such as if a husband not only engages in adultery but also deserts his wife in favour of another woman or abuses her, not only causing her pain through his adultery but also harm through his abuse, constitutes exceptional hardship to the wife.
- Even if adultery is not coupled with desertion or cruelty, it may still be committed in circumstances that show “exceptional depravity” and even if adultery is not coupled with another matrimonial offence, the consequences may still result in exceptional hardship for the applicant, as in the case of a wife who has a child by another man as a result of her adultery.
- The husband who commits adultery within a few weeks after getting married, or who does so in a promiscuous manner with multiple women, or with his wife’s sister, or with a servant, may be considered to be exceptionally depraved.
- Again, cruelty by itself is not exceptional. If it is combined with aggravating factors like neglect or drunkenness and it is particularly brutal or harmful to health, combined with perverted lust, it does not show the respondent’s exceptional depravity but results in exceptional hardship for the applicant.
Determining whether there is a chance for reconciliation in each of these cases is a significant factor. It is important to find out what the applicant has already done to try to make the marriage successful or find reconciliation at that point. The application may be rejected by the court if it determines that nothing reasonable has been done in his favour.
In Chandrima Guha v. Sumit Guha (1994), it was observed by the Calcutta High Court that allegations that the wife was an ultra-modern lady, unfit for a simple middle-class family. Her conduct and actions caused members of the husband’s family to suffer mental and physical pain and torture, to the point that the matter had to be brought to the police on multiple occasions. It was held not to constitute hardship within the meaning of the Section.
In Vinod Arora v. Manju Arora (1982), the Delhi High Court observed that the hardship required to move an application under Section 14 of the Act must be exceptional. The husband would not be entitled to move the petition for dissolution before the expiration of one year from the date of marriage based solely on the fact that the wife refused to engage in sexual intercourse with him after three days of marriage or that she frequently avoided the matrimonial home without a valid reason or justification.
The Kerala High Court ruled in Gijoosh Gopi v. Shruthi S. (2013) that Section 13(B) of the Act is subject to Section 14. In a joint petition for divorce, the parties in this case, who had been living separately for two weeks after their wedding, claimed that there had been no mutual coordination and that they had never shown each other any love or affection during their marriage. This, according to the Court, clearly represents an exceptional hardship for them. It was ruled safe to invoke the proviso to Section 14 as they could not possibly stay together.
Thus, while under Section 13(B), a period of one year should elapse from the date of marriage, Section 14 is an exception to this necessity. The family court had dismissed the divorce petition on the ground that the parties had not been living separately for at least one year since the solemnization of the marriage. On appeal, the proviso to Section 14 was invoked, and divorce was granted.
In Rishu Aggarwal v. Mohit Goyal (2022), the Delhi High Court made the observation that a mere incompatibility of marriage or one with irreconcilable differences resulting from temporal or behavioural differences would not, in and of itself, result in the causing of exceptional depravity by either party to the other. A mere denial of sex by one or both parties to the other cannot be characterised as an act of exceptional depravity. The denial of sex by one spouse to the other, or by both of them to each other, may undoubtedly result in “hardship,” but it cannot be deemed to be “exceptional hardship” under Section 14(1).
Recent judicial pronouncement
Rishu Aggarwal v. Mohit Goyal (2022)
In the aforementioned decision, the Family Court denied the wife’s application for dissolution of marriage by mutual consent filed under Section 13(B) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The appellant, the wife, filed the current appeal under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984, in an attempt to overturn and nullify the order of the Family Court.
The respondent and appellant barely cohabited as husband and wife and had no children of their own. Due to temperamental issues, the parties allegedly began living separately. A petition under Section 13(B)(1) of the Act was filed, along with an application for permission to file the petition before the one-year cooling-off period under Section 14.
By asserting that both parties denied having any sexual interactions, which resulted in a situation of ‘extraordinary hardship’ and ‘extreme depravity.’ Hence, the parties attempted to satisfy the requirements of exceptional conditions under Section 14.
The issue raised before the Court was whether it was possible for a married couple’s refusal to engage in sexual activity due to a temperamental difference to be deemed ‘extraordinary’ enough to result in the dissolution of the marriage without even waiting a year for a chance to reconcile. In response to the same, the Court said that it is reasonable to assume that a married couple will not be able to maintain a good conjugal relationship if they have significant, temporal, or behavioural challenges.
The Delhi High Court observed that a marriage with simple incompatibilities or one with irreconcilable differences caused by temporal or behavioural inequalities would not, in and of itself, result in either party inflicting extreme depravity upon the other. An act of extraordinary depravity cannot be deemed to have occurred when one or both parties simply refuse to engage in sexual activity with each other.
Although the refusal of sex by one spouse to the other, or by both of them to each other, can be deemed ‘hardship,’ it is not ‘extreme hardship’ as defined by Section 14(1). The High Court ruled that denying cohabitation within a marriage cannot be justified as an instance of ‘exceptional hardship’ or ‘extraordinary depravity.’ As a result, a one-year requirement cannot be waived. The waiver must instead be granted as an exception as opposed to a rule.
The refusal to enter into or failure to complete a conjugal relationship due to behavioural or temperamental differences is the only cause for divorce if done with cruelty, according to the Court. The decision of the Family Court was therefore upheld, and the appeal was denied.
However, the Court reserved the rights of the parties to move before it after the expiration of the mandatory waiting period.
Restrictions present in Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act are presumably intended to prevent parties from seeking legal action before they have made an honest effort to save their marriage. It is based on public policy because the rules governing how marriage contracts are created and, if necessary, dissolved are among the provisions of a nation’s laws and constitution that are most important to its citizens, as marriage is the cornerstone of civil society.
The expressions cover a broad range of subjects and are filled with extraordinary circumstances. The interests of children born out of a marriage and the question of whether there is a real possibility of a reconciliation between the parties must be taken into consideration by the court while making a decision. These factors are unrelated to the assessment of exceptional hardship or depravity. The likelihood of reconciliation must always take precedence in every circumstance. Even if there is no immediate chance of a reconciliation and relations between the spouses are strained, the child’s best interests should always come first.
- Kumud Desai, Indian Law of Marriage and Divorce (LexisNexis, Haryana, 11th ed., Revised and Reprinted, 2022)
- Neera Bharihoke and Bhagyashree Deshpande, Mulla Hindu Law (Delhi Law House, Delhi, 2021)
- Satyajeet A Desai, Mulla Hindu law (LexisNexis, Haryana, 23rd ed, 2018)
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