The Supreme Court on March 6, 2019, in the case of Swapnanjali Sandeep Patil v. Sandeep Ananda Patil, has held that there is no limitation period under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, for presenting a petition to declare a void marriage, in terms of Section 24, a nullity.
A Bench comprising of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice M.R. Shah was hearing an appeal filed by appellant-wife against the order passed by the Bombay High Court in which the court had confirmed the verdict by the District Judge, Pune dismissing her marriage petition.
Facts of the case
In this case, the wife approached the District Court, Pune under Section 25 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, for declaration of marriage as null and void on the ground that her husband obtained her consent for marriage by fraud. That at the time of marriage he was having a living spouse and that he had suppressed the fact of the first marriage from her.
The Trial Court dismissed her plea observing that the grounds under which the wife sought nullity of marriage are not grounds for nullity of marriage as per Section 25 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The court also observed that the application was out of period of limitation, as according to the provisions of Section 25 of the Act, the period of limitation is one year after the coercion had ceased or, as the case may be, the fraud had been discovered or the petitioner has with his or her free consent lived with other party to the marriage as husband and wife after the coercion had ceased or, as the case may be, the fraud had been discovered.
Feeling aggrieved by the decision passed by the Trial Court, the appellant-wife appealed before the Bombay High Court. However, the High Court dismissed her appeal which compelled her to move to the apex court.
Observations made by the Supreme Court
The apex court while hearing the appeal observed that neither the Trial Court nor even the High court at all considered Section 24 read with Section 4 of the Act nor considered the case on behalf of the appellant that as at the time of her marriage with the respondent, the respondent’s first marriage was subsisting and therefore the marriage between the appellant and the respondent would be void and nullity.
The Bench said that "Section 24 of the Act provides that any marriage solemnized under the Special Marriage Act shall be null and void and may, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party, be so declared by a decree of nullity if any of the conditions specified in clauses (a), (b), (c) and (d) of Section 4 has not been fulfilled. Clause (a) of Section 4 provides that neither party shall have a spouse living at the time of marriage. Therefore, considering Section 24 read with Section 4 of the Act, if at the time of marriage either of the party has spouse living, then the said marriage is a void marriage and a decree of nullity can be passed on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party."
Further, the Bench observed that no period of limitation is prescribed so far as presentation of petition for declaration to declare a marriage being nullity/void marriage, under Section 24 of the Act and rightly so, as once the marriage is void the same is a nullity and at any time the same can be declared as nullity being a void marriage. Therefore, both the trial court as well as the High Court have committed an error in observing that the marriage petition was barred by limitation.
"While holding so, both the trial court as well as the High Court had considered first proviso to Section 25 of the Act. In the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the opinion that Section 25 of the Act shall not be applicable and Section 24 of the Act would be applicable which does not provide for any period of limitation like first proviso to Section 25 of the Act,” the Bench said.
Thus holding that once the marriage is void the same is a nullity and at any time the same can be declared as nullity being a void marriage, the Bench allowed the appeal and declared the marriage between appellant-wife and respondent-husband as null and void.