Special Marriage Act, 1954

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The Indian Constitution allows a special type of marriage for the people of India where they can marry irrespective of their religion or caste which is defined under the Constitution of India as the Special Marriage Act of 1954. The SMA was enacted by the Parliament into the Indian legal system in 1954. This law controls those marriages which are not intended to be solemnized due to religious traditions. SMA is known as the Special Marriage Act because it provides a unique marriage for those who are not interested in following traditional religious customs. In this type of marriage, there is no requirement of converting or rejecting one’s religion, unlike arranged marriages where two families should belong to the same community or caste. The Act provides, “a special form of marriage in certain cases, for the registration of such and certain other marriages and for divorce.” SMA is applicable to all Indian citizens of all faiths such as HindusSikhs, and Muslims along with the JainsChristians, and Buddhists even the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Through this Act, legal recognition of the marriage is ensured as one can register their marriage which further provides various legal benefits to the couple including succession rights, social security benefits, and inheritance rights. Moreover, the Special Marriage Act is different from personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Muslim Marriage Act, 1954 as it enables marriage between inter-caste couples without converting the religion of the other before marriage. 

Essentials of a Valid Marriage under the Special Marriage Act

In Section 4 of the Special Marriage Act of 1954, certain essentials or conditions are required to be fulfilled in order to be eligible for marriage under SMA. In the absence of these prerequisites, the marriages would not be considered to have not been performed under this Act. 

  • The marriage is declared null and void if neither party has a living spouse (The act forbids polygamy) at the time of marriage. 
  • The parties involved in the wedlock should be of sound mind and should be able to take their own decisions. 
  • A party should not suffer from any type of mental disorder making him or her unfit for marriage as well as procreation of marriage.
  • The marriage is also declared null and void if both male and female have not reached the legal age of majority which is 21 for male and 18 for female. 
  • The parties should not be within the degrees of prohibited relationship.

Marriages performed by following all the mentioned prerequisites will only be lawful. 


Also Read: Women’s right to property under Muslim Law

Solemnization and registration of marriage: Procedure

The couples who wish to marry and register their marriage under the provisions of the SMA should follow the procedure mentioned in Section 16 of the Act. The marriage is solemnized by the Marriage Officer appointed by the Government rather than following any religious ceremonies. The procedure to follow is mentioned below:

  • A notice of intended marriage should be filed by the couple with the District Marriage Registrar who will further publish the notice in a prescribed manner.
  • Any objections if raised will be further investigated by the Marriage Registrar and if objections are found to be valid then the marriage will not process and vice versa. The registrar will ensure whether all the conditions/essentials of a valid marriage are satisfied or not.
  • If no objections are raised regarding the special marriage then the marriage is solemnized after the expiry of one month of the notice from the date of its publication.
  • After the solemnization of the marriage, the details of the marriage are registered by the Marriage registrar, and a certificate of the marriage is issued to the couple. The parties involved in the marriage and three witnesses will sign the certificate.

Void and Voidable Marriages

As per Section 24 of the Act, if any of the conditions for a valid marriage defined under this Act are not fulfilled then the marriage is declared null and void by a decree of nullity. The marriage is also declared null and void if, at the time of marriage or institution of the suit, the respondent was impotent. On the other hand, Section 25 of the Act stated that any marriage solemnized under the SMA is voidable if 

(i) the marriage consent of either party was determined to be fraud or obtained by coercion provided that the Court should not grant a decree if (a) proceedings were instituted within one year after the fraud had been discovered, and (b) the petitioner lived with another party with his or her consent after the coercion had ceased or the fraud was discovered.

(ii) the respondent wilfully refuses to consummate the marriage, and 

(iii) the respondent was pregnant at the time of marriage by a person other than the petitioner, provided that the court should not grant a decree, (a) at the time of marriage, the petitioner was ignorant of the alleged fact, (b) There has not been any marital intercourse with the consent of the petitioner since the petitioner discovered the grounds for decree, and (c) proceedings were instituted within a year from the date of the marriage. 

Divorce and Separation Grounds under SMA

A divorce petition can be presented either by the husband or the wife to the District Court on certain grounds which are mentioned as follows:

  • The respondent had voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than the spouse after the solemnization of the marriage. 
  • The petitioner has been deserted by the respondent for a period of not less than two years.
  • The respondent treated the petitioner with cruelty since the solemnization of marriage.
  • If the respondent is undergoing imprisonment for seven or more years for an offence and is not heard alive for more than seven years.
  • The respondent is suffering from venereal disease, an incurable form of leprosy, or is of unsound mind. 
  • The respondent-husband is found guilty of sodomy, bestiality, or rape.
  • Under Section 27 of the Act, a divorce or separation petition can be presented on the ground that “a decree or order, as the case may be, has been passed against the husband awarding maintenance to the wife notwithstanding that she was living apart and that since the passing of such decree or order, cohabitation between the parties has not been resumed for one year or upwards.”


Special Marriage Act in the way of giving people an identity as a couple also preserves their own individuality and religious fates. The concept is to make nuptial Knots non-ritual-centric and serve the interest of all Indian people. It provides provisions, prerequisites, and other regulations for lawful inter-faith marriages. 

Also Read: Supreme Court Updates

1. What is the validity of special Marriage ?
2. Is Inter-faith Marriage allowed under this act?