Issue referred to three-judge Bench of Supreme Court in view of conflicting judgments

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court will decide whether a decree of divorce by mutual consent can be granted without waiting for the statutory period of six months as contemplated under Section 13-B (2) of the Hindu Marriage Act.

Justices D.K. Jain and C.K. Prasad referred this issue to a three-judge Bench for determination, as in several cases the court, in exercise of its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution (to do substantial justice), had been passing a decree of divorce by mutual consent without waiting for the six-month period. On this basis, family courts and High Courts had also been granting divorce without waiting for the period.

The need for referring the issue to a three-judge Bench arose from conflicting judgments given by two different Benches. In the first instance, taking note of a number of cases where a decree of divorce by mutual consent had been granted by various courts, it was held that only the Supreme Court in exercise of its powers under Article 142 could pass orders before the expiry of the six-month period.

However, in another judgment it was held that no court had the competence either to issue a direction contrary to law or direct an authority to act in contravention of the statutory provisions. Even while exercising powers under Article 142, the Supreme Court could not ignore the statutory provisions or exercise power merely on sympathetic grounds.

The Bench of Justices Jain and Prasad said it could be gathered that both decisions did not altogether rule out the Supreme Court exercising its powers under Article 142, yet “it would be appropriate to refer the matter to a Bench of three judges in order to have a clear ruling on the issue for future guidance.”

Accordingly, the Bench referred the issue — “whether the period of six months prescribed under Section 13-B (2) could be waived or reduced by this court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 142.”

In the instant case, Neeti Malviya filed a petition for transfer of the divorce case filed by her husband from a court in Karnataka to a court in Madhya Pradesh. During the pendency of the matter, it was reported that the parties had arrived at a settlement to go for divorce by mutual consent and that the husband should deposit Rs. 60 lakh in her favour. However, during a hearing it was brought to the notice of the court that there were two different judgments and the question was raised whether the six-month period could be waived in this case. It was in this context the matter has been referred to the Chief Justice of India for being posted before a three-judge Bench.

The Bench, while directing that the matter be listed for further hearing in November, said that in the meantime the parties should file a joint petition under Section 13-B for grant of divorce by mutual consent in terms of the settlement.

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