The 1869 Divorce Act's provision that mandated at least a year of separation before a couple may file for divorce was overturned by the Kerala High Court last Friday.
The Act originally called for a separation period of two years, but the same court reduced it to one year in 2010.
The Court acknowledged the usefulness of a separation interval but questioned its validity as a general precaution against rash decisions.
We are forced to observe that no remedy is provided by statute under extraordinary and depraved conditions for a spouse to approach the Courts to get rid of the minimum duration, the court said in its ruling.
In order to ensure that effective judicial remedy is offered in circumstances of extreme burdens to the parties, the rigour of the minimum period must be softened. We find it upsetting that Christians are denied such a remedy, the court remarked.
According to Father Babu Joseph, SVD, a former spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), the court's decision could have a negative ripple effect on how Christians see marriage and divorce.
He told AsiaNews that “Although the High Court is legally right, marriage in the Christian community and in some other religious communities is not only a legal contract but also assumes a sacramental character and, therefore, every effort must be made to safeguard its sanctity before resorting to divorce."
The rule granting a year before a couple can apply for divorce by mutual consent, according to Father Babu, was created with this in mind.
The court’s decision will definitely speed up the divorce procedure for couples who want it, but there are also individual and social ramifications that must be held in mind, he added.
“The Church has always stood and continues to stand for the sanctity of marriage and will do everything possible to save it rather than let it fall apart,” Father Babu concluded.