Mutual consent to the divorce is a sine qua non for passing a decree for divorce under Section 13-B. Mutual consent should continue till the divorce decree is passed. It is a positive requirement for the court to pass a decree of divorce. The consent must continue to decree nisi and must be valid subsisting consent when the case is heard. If the Court is held to have the power to make a decree solely based on the initial (first) petition, it negates the whole idea of mutuality and consent for divorce.
Supreme Court in the case of Smt. Sureshta Devi vs Om Prakash, decided on 07.02.1991 (reported as 1992 AIR 1904: 1991 SCR (1) 274) dealt with the issue as to whether a party to a petition for divorce by mutual consent under Section 13B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (‘Act’) can unilaterally withdraw the consent or whether the consent once given is irrevocable.
The Court observed that Section 13-B is in pari materia with Section 28 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Sub-section (1) of Section 13-B requires that the petition for divorce by mutual consent must be presented to the Court jointly by both the parties. Similarly, sub- section (2) provides for hearing of the petition before the court also to be presented by both the parties.
There are three other requirements in sub-section (1), which are:
(i) They have been living separately for a period of one year.
(ii) They have not been able to live together, and
(iii) They have mutually agreed that marriage should be dissolved.
The ‘living separately’ for a period of one year should be immediately preceding the presentation of the petition. It is necessary that immediately preceding the presentation of petition, the parties must have been living separately. The expression ‘living separately’, connotes not living like husband and wife. It has no reference to the place of living. The parties may live under the same roof by force of circumstances, and yet they may not be living as husband and wife. The parties may be living in different houses and yet they could live as husband and wife. What can be stated as necessary is that there is no desire to perform marital obligations and with that attitude they have been living separately for a period of one year immediately preceding the presentation of the petition. The second requirement that they ‘have not been able to live together’ seems to indicate the concept of broken down marriage and it would not be possible to reconcile themselves. The third requirement is that they have mutually agreed that the marriage should be dissolved.
Under sub-section (2) the parties are required to make a joint motion not earlier than six months after the date of presentation of the petition and not later than 18 months after the said date. This motion enables the Court to proceed with the case in order to satisfy itself about the genuineness of the averments in the petition and also to find out whether the consent was not obtained by force, fraud or undue influence. The Court may make such inquiry as it thinks fit including the hearing or examination of the parties for the purpose of satisfying itself whether the averments in the petition are true. If the Court is satisfied that the consent of parties was not obtained by force, fraud or undue influence and they have mutually agreed that the marriage should be dissolved, it must pass a decree of divorce.
From the analysis of the Section, it was observed as apparent that the filing of the petition with mutual consent does not authorise the court to make a decree for divorce. There is a period of waiting from 6 to 18 months. This interregnum was intended to give time and opportunity to the parties to reflect on their move and seek advice from relations and friends. In this transitional period one of the parties may have a second thought and change the mind not to proceed with the petition. The spouse may not be party to the joint motion under sub-section (2). There is nothing in the Section which prevents such course. The Section does not provide that if there is a change of mind it should not be by one party alone, but by both.
At the time of the petition by mutual consent, the parties are not unaware that their petition does not by itself snap marital ties. They know that they have to take a further step to snap marital ties. Sub- section (2) of Section 13-B is clear on this point. It provides that “on the motion of both the parties …. if the petition is not withdrawn in the meantime, the Court shall pass a decree of divorce. What is significant in this provision is that there should also be mutual consent when they move the court with a request to pass a decree of divorce. Secondly, the Court shall be satisfied about the bonafides and the consent of the parties. If there is no mutual consent at the time of the enquiry, the court gets no jurisdiction to make a decree for divorce. If the view is otherwise, the Court could make an enquiry and pass a divorce decree even at the instance of one of the parties and against the consent of the other. Such a decree cannot be regarded as decree by mutual consent.
Sub-section (2) requires the Court to hear the parties which means both the parties. If one of the parties at that stage says that “I have withdrawn my consent”, or “I am not a willing party to the divorce”, the Court cannot pass a decree of divorce by mutual consent. If the Court is held to have the power to make a decree solely based on the initial petition, it negates the whole idea of mutuality and consent for divorce. Mutual consent to the divorce is a sine qua non for passing a decree for divorce under Section 13-B. Mutual consent should continue till the divorce decree is passed. It is a positive requirement for the court to pass a decree of divorce. The consent must continue to decree nisi and must be valid subsisting consent when the case is heard.