Satish (Hindu) and Rosy (Christian) fell in love and decided to get married. Fearing opposition from families and inspired by a popular movie, they decided to have a ‘registered marriage’ by paying a broker at the registration office. Before the registration, they exchanged garlands at a temple and tied a thali or mangalsutra. They then signed all the forms and went home, happy that their families could no longer separate them.

In a few months, problems arose between them. Rosy wanted to dissolve the marriage while Satish wanted to stay married. Unfortunately, the marriage did not have any legal footing.

Rosy’s lawyer pointed out that the validity of the certificate was disputable because first, a 30-day notice had not been given before the registration. Second, the couple had not noticed that the broker had filled in a random address in the ‘place of marriage’ column instead of the correct temple. And third, none of the witnesses who signed the certificate were actually present at the ceremony.

Finally, Satish could not even present the temple ceremony as proof of solemnising the marriage because he found that only two Hindus can solemnise a marriage according to Hindu law. It becomes invalid if one partner is Hindu and the other is of a different religion.

Clearly, for young couples in love, it’s important to know that merely paying a broker for a ‘package deal’ does not ensure a valid marriage. It is important to verify the correct form of marriage that applies to them, and everything they need for the actual registration.

Usually, when two people of different religions want to get married, they can do so only by solemnising the marriage under the Special Marriages Act, 1954. In such cases, the proceedings before the Marriage Registrar amount to solemnisation of the marriage. Notice about the intention to register the marriage has to be given at least 30 days before the date of registration. This is the procedure that is understood in popular parlance as a ‘registered marriage’.

Today, however, registration of all marriages is being made compulsory in India, regardless of whether the couple belongs to different religions or not. The registration is being made mandatory even if a religious ceremony has preceded it. A marriage is said to be solemnised when all the essential ceremonies required according to religion and custom are completed between two people of the same religion. In such cases, where a marriage is solemnised according to personal law and customs, registering the marriage creates a legal record of the fact that a valid marriage took place in the presence of witnesses. Thus, it is not essential to register the marriage on the same day as the religious ceremony. However, the details of the marriage date, the venue and the witnesses have to be accurately recorded for the certificate to be legally valid.

The couple has to produce documents before the registrar about the ceremony and venue, and produce three witnesses to testify to the wedding. In some states, the prescribed time limit for registration is 90 days, in some states it is 60 days. This procedure is uniform to all, regardless of whether the marriage is performed according to Hindu, Christian or Islamic customs.

In my next column, I will deal with the advantages of registration and the fallouts of not registering a marriage.

(Poongkhulali B., a graduate from National Law School, Bengaluru, is a practising advocate in Chennai with a keen interest in legal literacy and in making legal processes less intimidating to the common man. And woman. This column is legal information, not advice. Please consult a lawyer for specific cases. Mail the author at poongkhulali.b@gmail.com)