The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to interfere with a Madras High Court judgment holding that a family court in Chennai had the jurisdiction to decide the divorce case filed by Tamil actor Sukanya against her U.S.-based husband.
A Bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan dismissed a special leave petition filed by R. Sridharan, challenging the High Court judgment. In a brief order, the Bench said, “We do not find any valid ground to interfere with the High Court order. The SLP is dismissed leaving open the question of law. If the appellant has any grievance he can approach the family court. Since the application [for divorce] is pending since 2004, we direct the family court to decide the matter in four months.”
Justice Sathasivam told appellant's counsel K.K. Mani, “The facts are against you. There are many disputed facts. Whether the appellant is a US citizen; if so, when did he acquire US citizenship are all matters which can be adjudicated only by the family court.”
Gita Rama Seshan, counsel for Ms. Sukanya, maintained that the Hindu Marriage Act would apply and the family court in Chennai would have the jurisdiction to decide the divorce application.
Justice Chauhan told counsel, “You [the appellant] have a residence in Chennai. You are visiting the place. Whether you have acquired properties are not, what your intentions are if you have acquired any property can be gone into only by the family court.”
Mr. Mani, however, maintained that the house in Chennai belonged to his father and he did not own any property. But Justice Chauhan said, “These things can't be decided by us. Issues have to be framed and evidence has to be let in. There must be proper adjudication. But you did not allow the family court to decide anything. Even the question of jurisdiction could have been raised as a preliminary issue. But you have rushed to the High Court. Let the family court decide.”
According to the appellant, his marriage with Ms. Sukanya took place as per traditional Hindu customs at the Balaji temple in New Jersey, U.S., in April 2002. She returned to India in January 2003 and never went back.
On a writ petition filed by Mr. Sridharan — through his Power of Attorney R.V. Krishnan — challenging the matrimonial proceedings on the ground that he could not be subjected to Indian laws, a single judge and a Division Bench of the Madras High Court had held that Ms. Sukanya was entitled to file the petition in the place where she was staying.
The appellant's contention before the Supreme Court was it was settled law that in order to apply the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act both parties must be ‘domiciles' of India. As the appellant was a U.S. citizen, he could not be subjected to Indian jurisdiction and face the matrimonial proceedings which were not maintainable in law.
He argued that only the Foreign Marriage Act would apply to him.