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Amit Kumar v/s Suman Beniwal, 2021: Re-Interpreting Section 13B (2) of the Hindu Marriage Act

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 [1] was the first to recognize divorce among Hindus. According to Manu, only the death of one of the partners may bring a marriage to an end. Any divorce that was not merely frowned upon, but also labelled and biased was strongly discouraged.

The sole divorce law in British India was the Divorce Act of 1869, [2] which allowed Christians to divorce each other in India. Apart from that, there was no legal framework in place in India for divorce. The Hindu Marriage Act was passed in 1955, and it included provisions on divorce. The term "divorce" is not defined in the statute as it merely refers to the termination of a marriage.

Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act outlines the numerous grounds for divorce that the spouse may have. Wives have been given more reasons to file for divorce. In the case of divorce, the Hindu marriage legislation applies the blame theory, which implies that a marriage can be dissolved if one of the spouses is accountable or liable for a marital violation.

A divorce is an option for the innocent spouse. As holy as marriage might be, divorce must be acknowledged in a civilised culture. Higher focus on individual liberty and choices has resulted in increased acceptance of divorcees in our nation, as well as a decrease in stigmatisation, which is a beneficial trend in society.

The Hindu Marriage Act, Section 13B(1), read with Section 13B(2), stipulates a total waiting period of 1½ years from the date of separation before filing an application for a decree of divorce. In the case of Amit Kumar v. Suman Beniwal (Civil Appeal No. 7650 of 2021) [3], the court found that the required waiting time of six months under Section 13(B) (2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (Act) might be waived if the parties to the marriage have irreconcilable disagreements.

Details of the Case
Citation : Amit Kumar v. Suman Beniwal, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1270
Appellant : Amit Kumar v/s Respondent : Suman Beniwal
Decided on December 11, 2021 - Civil Appeal No. 7650 of 2021
The Judgement of the Court was delivered by Indira Banerjee, J.

Facts of the Case
On September 10, 2020, the Appellant and Respondent, both educated and well-placed in life (the Appellant is an IPS officer and the Respondent is an IFS official), married according to Hindu traditions. The Appellant and Respondent admittedly separated on September 13, 2020, three days after their marriage, due to irreconcilable disagreements.

As per Section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, the parties should be living separately for at least 1 year to present a petition for divorce through mutual consent. So as per the requirements put forth by the Hindu Marriage Act they lived separately for a period of 1 year and after more than a year of separation, the Appellant and Respondent filed a petition in the Family Court under Section 13B (1) of the Hindu Marriage Act for a judgement of divorce by mutual consent on or around September 30, 2021.

On or about October 12, 2021, the Appellant and Respondent filed an application in the Family Court, requesting a waiver of the six ­month waiting time imposed by Section 13B(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, in order to file a motion for the Court to issue a divorce judgement.

The Family Court rejected the application as lacking of grounds and unmaintainable in an order dated October 12, 2021. The Appellant filed a Civil Revisional Application with the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, with the number CR 2527­ 2021 (O&M), challenging this Order under Article 227 of the Indian Constitution (High Court). The aforementioned Civil Revisional Application was rejected by the High Court in a judgement and order dated 17-11-2021.

As a last resort, the Appellant took his grievances to the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India and filed an appeal against the judgement and order put forth by the High Court and Family Court respectively.

Issues:
  • Whether the High Court and Family err in their decision of dismissing the divorce petition filed by the appellant.
  • Whether Section 13B (2) of the Hindu Marriage Act is mandatory or if the courts can waive the requirement under 13B (2) at its discretion.
  • Whether a Supreme Court judgement be read in the manner of a statute and with pedantic rigidity.

Reasoning
Both sides of the arguments were heard and analysed by the Court before reaching the conclusion. The Family Court dismissed their petition to waiver the statutory waiting period relying on the Judgement put forward by the Supreme Court in the case of Amardeep Singh v. Harveen Kaur, 2017. [4] The reason for dismissal was that this instant case does not fall within the parameters , fixed in the above mentioned case, to waive off the stipulated period of six months as mentioned under Section 13B(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act.

The judgement in Amardeep Singh (supra) is unambiguous. The purpose of Section 13B of the Act is to allow parties to dissolve a marriage by consent if it has irreversibly broken down. This would allow them to consider alternative possibilities and move on with their lives. To protect against a hasty judgement, Section 13B(2) of the Act , which is directory in nature, provides a six-month waiting period.

However, if a Court determines that there is no hope of reconciliation, it should not be powerless to waive the six-month statutory time in order to save the parties from further misery. The power, however, has been subjected to the following conditions, which are replicated below:
  1. The statutory period of six months specified in Section 13B(2), in addition to the statutory period of one year under Section 13B(1) of separation of parties is already over before the first motion itself;
  2. All efforts for mediation/conciliation including efforts in terms of Order XXXIIA Rule 3 CPC/Section 23(2) of the Act/Section 9 of the Family Courts Act to reunite the parties have failed and there is no likelihood of success in that direction by any further efforts;
  3. The parties have genuinely settled their differences including alimony, custody of child or any other pending issues between the parties;
  4. The waiting period will only prolong their agony.
In this instance, the first motion was filed on September 30, 2021, and the parties had been living separately since September 13, 2020. As a result, the time of separation of 18 months was not complete as of the date of recording the statement of first motion. Since this is in violation of the first guideline put forth in the Amardeep Singh case, the Family court dismissed the petition being devoid of merits.

The High Court also dismissed the appeal filed by the Appellant citing the same reason. The High Court correctly found that Section 13B (2) is directory, but rejected the Criminal Revisional Application with the observation that the Family Court had no option but to dismiss the application.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court observed that, in its wisdom, the legislature devised Section 13B (2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, which provides for a six-month cooling period from the date of filing the divorce petition under Section 13B (1) in the event that the parties change their minds and reconcile their issues.

If the parties still want to divorce after six months and file a request, the Court must award a divorce decree pronouncing the marriage dissolved with effect from the date of the decree, after conducting any investigations it deems necessary. And regarding the Amardeep Singh judgement, the court observed that, the factors mentioned are illustrative and not exhaustive.

The Family Court and the High Court misinterpreted the judgement in Amardeep Singh v. Harveen Kaur (supra) and proceeded on the basis that this Court has held that the conditions set forth in paragraph 19 of the said judgement, quoted above, are mandatory, and that the statutory waiting period of six months under Section 13B (2) can only be waived if all of the aforementioned conditions are met. A decision is well established as a precedent for the legal question that is discussed and decided. A decision should not be interpreted in the same way as a legislation and understood with pedantic rigour.

The court in Devinder Singh Narula v. Meenakshi Nangia (2012) [5], Soni Kumari v. Deepak Kumar (2016) [6] and Anil Kumar Jain v. Maya Jain (2009) [7] had also reaffirmed the court's power to waive the 6 month waiting period under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution.

Decision
As previously stated, the parties in this case are both well-educated and high-ranking government officials. Despite the fact that the parties have been apart for over 14 months, they still want to divorce. Making the parties wait serves no beneficial purpose other than to prolong their pain. The appeal against the High Court and Family Court orders was permitted by the court. A decree of divorce by mutual consent was also issued under Section 13B of the HMA.

Conclusion
Section 13 outlines the numerous grounds for divorce that the spouse may have. More reasons have been offered to wives to apply for divorce. When it comes to divorce, Hindu law follows the blame principle, which states that a marriage can be annulled if one of the spouses is responsible or liable for a marital infraction.

For the innocent spouse, divorce is a possibility. Divorce, as sacred as marriage may be, must be recognised in a civilised society. Increased acceptance of divorcees in our country, as well as a decrease in stigmatisation, has arisen from a greater focus on individual liberty and choices, which is a positive trend in society. As a result, the Hindu Marriage Act features a fairly equitable mechanism for dissolving marriages since it treats both parties equally.

Social Impact
The unusual features of the case have given birth to new practical aspects to consider when waiving the cooling-off period, and have created a bigger and more flexible window to avoid the waiting period where both parties have made a reasonable choice to divorce amicably. This decision creates a favourable precedent for providing individuals more liberty in private matters of marriage and reducing the government's involvement over citizens' affairs and in exploring the scope of binding, precedents have on the court.

End-Notes:
  1. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955|Legislative Department | Ministry of Law and Justice | GoI, https://legislative.gov.in/actsofparliamentfromtheyear/hindu-marriage-act-1955 (last visited Sep 17, 2022).
  2. The Divorce Act, 1869|Legislative Department | Ministry of Law and Justice | GoI, https://legislative.gov.in/actsofparliamentfromtheyear/divorce-act-1869 (last visited Sep 17, 2022).
  3. Amit Kumar v. Suman Beniwal, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1270
  4. Amardeep Singh v. Harveen Kaur, 2017(4) RCR (Civil) 608
  5. Devinder Singh Narula v. Meenakshi Nangia, (2012) 8 SCC 580
  6. Soni Kumari v. Deepak Kumar, (2016) 16 SCC 346
  7. Anil Kumar Jain v. Maya Jain, (2009) 10 SCC 415

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