Divorce may be granted under Hindu law on numerous grounds. However, it is often the case that a couple married in India will subsequently move abroad, and may seek divorce in their new place of residence. This guide looks at how Hindu divorce procedure operates according to both Indian and British law in practice.
The Hindu Marriage Act
Marriage and divorce in India are regulated by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which also takes account of other religious groups in India. It allows numerous grounds for divorce which may be brought by either the husband or the wife; these include sickness, desertion, adultery, insanity, bigamy and cruelty. A marriage can also be annulled in certain circumstances; furthermore, if a woman was married before the age of 15 and has not yet reached 18, she has the power to repudiate the marriage.
Although Hindu marriage was originally a private matter not governed by state intervention, under the Hindu Marriage Act, divorce must be petitioned on legal grounds, with the intervention of a legal practitioner. Under British law, "Irretrievable Breakdown" is the standard measure of grounds for divorce, but such grounds are not officially recognised by the Hindu Marriage Act. However, a Hindu marriage can be dissolved on the grounds of separation, or the absence of conjugal rights, both measured by a period not less than one year.
For those who marry in India but subsequently move to the UK, some complications may arise when seeking divorce. Foreign marriages are recognised in the UK, providing the marriage was carried out according to the law and formalities of the other country. Therefore, any marriage solemnised under the Hindu Marriage Act will be recognised under British law. This being the case, a divorce may be sought in the UK for a marriage solemnised in India. However, the Hindu Marriage Act does not recognise foreign divorce, and so a divorce granted in the UK may be declared null and void in India.
The Foreign Marriage Act
Hindus who marry in the UK, might later seek a divorce in India, or there may be numerous other complications that arise between the legal systems of the two countries; for example if one partner is in India and the other in the UK. In India, the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969 recognises marriage under British law, but anyone seeking divorce in a situation where there are complications between individual state legislation should seek professional legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity, particularly where there are children and money involved.