The constitution of India provides for two adults - male and female - to get married in a court (also known as a registered marriage). These marriages are legal and provide for consenting and adults male and female to get married without needing to follow any religious or cultural ceremonies.
However, lack of clarity over the intricacies and procedure of solemnising a court marriage often proves to be a stumbling block. Often, contradicting information disseminated by trusted friends and family or available online adds to the confusion.
To help those intending to take this route for tying the knot, we spoke to Siddhartha Mishra, a lawyer at the Supreme Court of India, to decode the nitty-gritty of court marriages.
What is a court marriage as per Indian law?
Court marriage is governed by the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and is common across the nation. It can be solemnised between two partners (belonging to the same or different nations) irrespective of their caste, religion or race.
Simply put, a court marriage means solemnising of marriage according to the law. It can be performed for inter-caste and inter-faith couples. To complete the procedure, the interested parties can directly apply to the Marriage Registrar for obtaining a marriage certificate. Mostly, the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) officiates as the registrar. So, this procedure takes place in the SDM court. In some cases, the District Collector (DC) may officiate as a registrar. It varies from city to city, state to state. Please check for your city.
What documents do you need to initiate court marriage proceedings?
Both partners need to submit the following documents for a court marriage:
a) An application form duly be signed by both parties
b) Date of Birth certificates
c) Residential proof of the parties
d) Two passport size photos of both the parties
e) Receipt of the fees paid for the application filed in the Registrar Office
f) Death certificates or divorce decree if either party was married before
g) Affirmation by the parties
What is the process for a court marriage?
Once you have submitted an application expressing your intent for a court marriage, a notice to that effect will be displayed at a prominent place in the marriage registrar’s office for 30 days. During this period, anyone can object to the marriage. If an objection is received, the marriage registrar will verify the illegality of the marriage and either order against it or give the go ahead.
These objections only pertain to what is considered illegal. So for example, a person cannot marry a second time without proving a divorce or the death of their first partner. But lack of parental consent cannot be considered an objection. In some states, it might be necessary to establish that no religious conversion has happened for the purpose of the marriage.
Once you pass the 30-day period, the bride and the groom will sign a declaration form, along with three witnesses, at the marriage registrar’s office on a pre-decided date. The declaration form specifies both parties’ consent to marry, and signing it completes the marriage formalities. After this, the marriage registrar enters the details of the marriage in a court marriage certificate, which is issued anywhere in 15 to 30 days after the marriage proceedings are formalised.
No part of the court marriage, right from filling the intent application to booking a date can be completed online as yet, and must be done in person at the registrar’s office.
Is parents’ consent necessary?
What is the legality of marriage solemnised in court if partners are of different castes, faiths or nationalities?
Anyone irrespective of religion can lawfully marry a person of the opposite gender, under this provision granted by the Special Marriage Act, 1954. A marriage solemnised under this law is not governed by personal Law of the Religion but by secular laws.
Similarly, the rights and duties arising out of marriage are also governed by secular law, and succession is governed by Indian Succession Act, 1925, and not by the personal laws.
The main reason behind the enactment of the Special Marriage Act was to provide a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indians residing in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party.
According to the Act, the bride and the groom can observe any ceremonies for the solemnisation of their marriage, provided they complete certain formalities that are prescribed for the marriage by the Act.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954, has proven to be especially beneficial for the NRIs because it provides for the appointment of diplomatic and consular officers as marriage officers (registrars) for solemnising and registering marriages between citizens of India in a foreign country.
Are court marriages recognised under the Hindu Marriage Act or does a couple need to follow Hindu ritual for legality?
Court marriages are not recognised under the Hindu Marriage Act. However, that has no bearing on the legality of the marital union. No pheras or Hindu marriage rituals are necessary for legal recognition of a marriage solemnised in court.
What about the legality of court marriage for people of other faiths?
The same holds true for legality of court marriage for people of other faiths as well. Marriages in India take place either following the personal Law of the Religion to which the concerned parties belong or as per the provisions of the Special Marriage Act.
Marriage, as per the common law, constitutes a contract between a man and a woman, in which the parties undertake to live together and support each other. The legality of both forms of marriage is on par in the eyes of the law.
Do you need legal assistance for solemnising a court marriage? Can a lawyer charge a fee for helping a couple with the formalities?
Yes, legal assistance can be extremely beneficial as an advocate will prepare all the necessary documents required for the registration process. It helps in reducing the burden and time of parties to the marriage. In case of further claims and deliberations raised, an advocate will file an appeal on behalf of parties and make the arguments. Obviously, a lawyer will charge his fees but it can be set depending upon the paying capacities of the couple.
Arushi Chaudhary is a freelance journalist and writer with 5 years of experience in print publications such as the Pune Mirror and Hindustan Times, and has spent close to a decade writing for digital platforms and print publications – The Tribune, BR International magazine, Make My Trip, Killer Features, The Money Times, and Home Review, to name a few. Of the many things she's written about over the years, exploring the space of love and relationships through the prism of psychology excites her the most. Writing is her first and forever love. You can find her on Twitter here.