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The objective of including a six-month “cooling off” period in a mutual consent divorce, introduced in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, was to enable the couple to reflect on their decision and see if they had taken it hastily and if there still remained a possibility of reconciliation.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday (September 12) observed that this was not necessary any more for consenting couples who have gone beyond the point of reconciliation and that the entire process in these cases should be completed in a week. This judgment emanated from a plea by a couple living separately for eight years and who wanted this cooling off period to be waived for the benefit of the children and so the two can resettle.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit observed that this cooling off period was introduced with a noble purpose in mind, but it could not be made mandatory. When all efforts at mediation have failed and when both the parties have already lived separately for at least a year, divorce should be granted quickly to allow the parties time to resettle and start afresh, say reports.

This statutory separation and the six-month waiting period are applicable for Hindu couples, as per the Act’s Section 13B(2). It says that if both parties do not change their pleas for divorce in a time period not less than six months and not later than 18 months, the court shall pass a decree declaring the marriage to be dissolved. The period of six to 18 months provided in Section 13B is an interregnum to give time and opportunity for the couple to reflect on their move.

The bench observed: “The object of the provision is to enable the parties to dissolve a marriage by consent if the marriage has irretrievably broken down and to enable them to rehabilitate them as per available options. The amendment was inspired by the thought that forcible perpetuation of status of matrimony between unwilling partners did not serve any purpose. The object of the cooling off period was to safeguard against a hurried decision if there was otherwise possibility of differences being reconciled.

“The object was not to perpetuate a purposeless marriage or to prolong the agony of the parties when there was no chance of reconciliation. Though every effort has to be made to save a marriage, if there are no chances of reunion and there are chances of fresh rehabilitation, the court should not be powerless in enabling the parties to have a better option,” the bench said.

The bench, after studying the said Section, came to the conclusion that the period mentioned was not mandatory but directory in nature. The court thereafter passed the judgment.

India Legal Bureau

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