NRI marriages or divorces may lead to complex legal situations, where the spouses are struggling for justice under different legal regimes. Often the complex legal scenario is disheartening than real life problems. In a complex legal scenario, where matrimonial disputes are placed, the legal complications get multiplied manifold when a marriage steps out of the borders of a country and therefore the boundaries of the country’s legal system, in a phenomenon that has come to be known as the “NRI marriages”. These marriages have to then enter the domain – often called the ‘maze’ – of private international law that deals with the interplay and conflict of laws of different countries, which makes the issues therein, that much more complex. Therefore, legal assistance is very much necessary in international matrimonial disputes.
Indian Marriages: There are two types of marriages in India. One is Religious Marriage and the second one is Civil Marriages.
It is one of the legally accepted forms of marriage in India. However, the marriage certificate issued by the temple or gurudwara may not be sufficient in all the legal situations. Therefore, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains are required to register the marriage with the registrar of marriages. However, if one of the parties to the marriage is foreign national the registrar may ask for ‘no objection letter’ and proof of termination of any previous marriages from concerned high commissions or embassies before the issuing of the marriage certificate.
If the parties are married in a Christian, Muslim, Parsi, Jewish, Baha’i or other religious ceremony, the certificate issued by the concerned religious authorities, for e.g. church’s marriage certificate, generally constitutes sufficient proof of marriage.
Civil Marriages or Statutory Marriages:
Parties who do not want to marry in a religious ceremony can opt for a civil ceremony as per the provisions of Special Marriage Act. However, all the procedures mentioned above for registration of marriage in front of the registrar of marriages should be followed, if one of the parties to the marriage is foreign national. The parties generally are required to wait at least 30 days from the date of initial application to formalize the marriage so that the registrar of marriages can publish a notice of the application for the marriage allowing an opportunity for any objections to be filed against the concerned marriage. The office of the registrar of marriages is generally situated in a local court complex or municipal building.
However, The Supreme Court of India recently ordered compulsory registration of marriages of all religions. Therefore, state wise legislations are in place across the states of India or it is under the process of legislation.
The problems with regard to ‘NRI marriages’ include harassment for dowry and non-consummation of marriages, marriages of convenience, concealment of pre-existing marriage by the husband and lack of social security faced by an Indian woman on foreign soil once the marriage is broken for no fault of hers. The woman’s recourse to justice abroad is greatly constrained because the marriage is no longer governed by Indian laws, but by other, far more complex laws of the other countries.
If the groom is an NRI and the bride moves abroad after the marriage, the families are advised to check the groom’s voter registration card, social security number, employment record, tax returns and other relevant information pertaining to the three preceding years as this information would enable them to find out the financial and marital status of the proposed grooms. Moreover, it is suggested that the bridegroom may be asked by the Marriage Registration Officer and visa authorities to attach an affidavit stating his current marital status. This information should be attached with the request for registration of marriage certificate.
In some cases, marriage is dissolved in one country, it survived in another country, and marital rights could be enforced according to local laws there. Such problems arose because of the legal barriers to serve summons and record evidence abroad. There is a real need to resort on private international law to deal with disputes in which one of the parties resided outside the country.