'Women can file for divorce anywhere'
TNN, Jul 13, 2010, 02.30am IST
CHENNAI: In a crucial ruling that is sure to cheer up women fighting divorce cases with husbands residing in a foreign country, the Madras high court has said that the family court in India had jurisdiction to try matrimonial litigation even if the husband is a citizen of a foreign country and not an ordinary resident of India.
A division bench comprising Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice KK Sasidharan pointed out that the amended Section 19 of the Hindu Marriage Act extended to outside India. "The fact that the husband is residing outside the territory does not prevent the wife from applying before the local designated court to redress her grievances," the bench said.
The judges were passing orders on a case involving film actor R Sukanya and her husband R Sridharan, who is an American citizen. The two got married in April 2002 as per Hindu rites and custom at the Balaji Temple in New Jersey in the US. After nearly a year she returned to India, started to act in films, and also filed a divorce petition in 2004. As her husband did not attend the proceedings, the family court granted her divorce ex parte.
On representation from her husband Sridharan, later the family court reversed its order. He also filed a petition in the high court to restrain the family court from hearing the case on the ground that the court in India had no jurisdiction to take up the matter involving American citizens.
Dismissing his claims, the judges said that when the marriage was solemnised under the Hindu law, the proceedings for divorce also has to be made under the same Act. Referring to the amended Section 19 of the Act, the judges said that with effect from December 23, 2003, the wife is now entitled to file a matrimonial petition before a district court in whose territorial jurisdiction she is residing.
The judges rejected Sridharan's claims of domicile, and said, "when the marriage was solemnised under the Hindu law, the proceedings for divorce has also to be made under the said Act. He cannot take any exception to the proceedings in India under the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act merely on account of his US citizenship or domicile."
Explaining the rationale behind the amendment, the judges said the original section was causing serious prejudice to women as it was not possible for them to initiate proceedings before the court in whose jurisdiction they are residing.
"Because of the rigid provision, women were compelled to approach the court in whose jurisdiction the marriage was solemnised or the husband resides or the parties to the marriage last resided together. The jurisdiction clause as it stood originally was really unfair to women," the judges said and directed the family court to go ahead with the hearing of the actor's case and conclude it within two months.