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Void Hindu Marriage

Updated: May 5

Marriage, an institution central to society, has been governed by various legal, social, and religious norms across cultures and epochs. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 represents a significant legal milestone in India, modernising the traditional Hindu legal framework to address the evolving societal norms and enhancing the rights of married women.

This Act categorises marriages into three types—void, voidable, and dissoluble—each with specific legal implications.

void hindu marriage


Legal Foundations of Void Marriages

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, was enacted to modernise the legal framework governing the marital relationships of Hindus in India. Prior to this, Hindu marriage customs were largely based on religious prescriptions and varied significantly across different regions and communities.

The Act introduced uniformity and legal sanctity to the concepts of marriage and its dissolution, focusing on enhancing the rights and legal standing of married women especially.

One of the critical innovations of this Act is the categorization of marriages into three distinct types: void, voidable, and dissoluble. This classification is crucial as it dictates the legal remedies available to parties in troubled marriages.

Definition and Characteristics of Void Marriages

Under the Hindu Marriage Act, a void marriage is considered legally non-existent from its inception. Unlike voidable marriages, which are initially valid and only become void when annulled by a court, void marriages are deemed invalid from the beginning.

This nullity stems from serious legal flaws that contravene the fundamental conditions stipulated in the Act for a valid marriage.

For example, marriages performed in disregard of the marital status, or close familial relationships of the partners are classified as void.

The law treats such unions as if they never occurred, meaning there are no marital rights or obligations between the parties, and no legal recognition of their union.

Absolute vs. Relative Impediments: Deciding Factors

The Act clearly distinguishes between absolute and relative impediments to marriage, affecting the classification of marriages as either void or voidable. Absolute impediments lead to a marriage being automatically void ab initio. These include:

  • Bigamy: If either party has a living spouse at the time of marriage, the subsequent marriage is void.

  • Prohibited Degrees of Kinship: Marrying a close relative defined under the law, without appropriate dispensation, results in a void marriage.

  • Non-Compliance with Ceremonial Requirements: Marriages that fail to adhere to the essential ceremonial rites prescribed by the Act.

Relative impediments, on the other hand, make a marriage voidable rather than immediately void. These include cases where:

  • Consent Obtained Under Duress or Fraud: If consent to the marriage is procured by force, fraud, or undue influence.

  • Mental Incapacity: At the time of the marriage, if either party was incapable of giving valid consent due to unsoundness of mind or mental disorder.

  • Age: If either party is below the legal age of marriage at the time of marriage but above the age of consent.


Legal Consequences of Void Hindu Marriages

Non-Existence of Marital Rights and Obligations

Void marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, are treated as if they never legally existed.

This unique legal status has significant implications for the parties involved. Most notably, it means that none of the rights or obligations typically associated with a marital relationship apply. These include:

Property Rights: There is no entitlement to property acquisition or division as would normally be the case under matrimonial property laws. Assets acquired during the period considered as marital will be treated as individual properties of the respective parties.

Succession Rights: Inheritance rights that a spouse might typically have under personal laws do not apply. Each party retains their status as a single individual for the purposes of inheritance and succession.

Impact on Children and Legitimacy under Section 16

One of the more complex aspects of void marriages involves the status and rights of children born from such unions.

Typically, children born out of void marriages would be considered illegitimate, affecting their rights to inheritance and social status.

However, Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act provides a crucial safeguard by conferring legitimacy on all children born from void marriages. This legislative protection ensures that:

  • Children from void marriages are treated as legitimate in the eyes of the law, protecting their rights in matters such as inheritance and the entitlement to parental property.

  • These children are entitled to the same social and educational benefits as those from valid marriages, helping to reduce stigma and potential discrimination in society.

Judicial Declarations and Their Lack of Necessity

Although void marriages are automatically null from the outset, the Act does permit either party involved in such a marriage to seek a formal declaration of nullity from a court. This provision is particularly significant for several reasons:

Legal Clarity and Records: Obtaining a judicial declaration can provide clear legal documentation that the marriage was void, which can be useful in bureaucratic and legal processes where marital status must be proved, such as during re-marriage, visa applications, or other governmental procedures.

Psychological Closure: For some individuals, a formal court declaration can provide a sense of closure and finality to a chapter in their lives that was marred by legal irregularities.

Avoidance of Future Legal Complications: A court declaration can help preempt any potential disputes or legal challenges concerning the status of the marriage, especially in contentious situations involving property or other civil matters.

Grounds for Declaring Marriages Void

Bigamy: When Existing Marriages Invalidate New Ones

Bigamy is one of the most straightforward grounds for declaring a marriage void under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Bigamy occurs when one individual enters into a marriage while already being married to another person.

According to the Act, such a subsequent marriage is considered void from the start, regardless of the intentions or beliefs of the parties involved. This law reflects a clear shift from historical practices where certain sections of Hindu society permitted polygamy.

Today, the enforcement against bigamy aims to uphold the principle of monogamy, promoting familial stability and protecting the rights of the first spouse. Violations not only invalidate the second marriage but also carry legal penalties, reinforcing the seriousness with which modern law views the practice.


Prohibited Relationships: Understanding Sapinda and Degrees of Proximity

The Hindu Marriage Act also specifies that marriages within certain degrees of kinship, known as 'prohibited degrees of relationship', or between sapindas, are void.

A sapinda relationship extends to five generations on the father’s side and three on the mother’s side, reflecting deep-rooted cultural norms designed to prevent marriages between closely related individuals.

These restrictions are grounded in both social and biological rationales; socially, they preserve established familial roles and boundaries, and biologically, they reduce the risks of genetic disorders arising from consanguineous relationships.

Marriages that contravene these restrictions are automatically deemed void, emphasizing the Act’s role in safeguarding both social order and health.

Essential Ceremonies: Their Role in Validating Marriages

Another critical ground for a marriage being declared void is the non-performance of essential marital ceremonies.

Under Hindu law, certain rites, such as the Saptapadi (the seven steps ritual), are crucial for the legal recognition of a marriage.

These ceremonies are not merely symbolic but serve as a formal act of consent and completion of the marriage contract in the presence of witnesses.

Failure to perform these rites according to the customs that are considered essential by the community of the couple means that the marriage does not legally exist.

This requirement underscores the importance of ritual in Hindu culture, serving both as a public declaration of the marital bond and as a binding legal act.

Practical Considerations 

Who Can File for Nullity? Understanding the Parties Involved

The right to file for a declaration of nullity of a void marriage is restricted to the parties involved in the marriage itself. This stipulation means:

No Third-Party Applications: Only the individuals directly involved in the void marriage can initiate legal action to seek a declaration of nullity.

Limitation upon Death: If one of the parties dies, the surviving individual cannot file for nullity, as the marriage is already considered non-existent in legal terms. This limits further legal actions, particularly in disputes over the estate of the deceased.

Ancillary Reliefs: Maintenance, Custody, and More

Despite a marriage being legally void, the courts still retain the authority to grant ancillary reliefs.

These reliefs are crucial for mitigating the adverse effects that might arise from the void status of a marriage, particularly on any children born from such a union or economically dependent parties:

Maintenance: The court may order one party to provide financial support to the other, especially if one party is significantly disadvantaged or if children need support.

Custody and Visitation Rights: Decisions regarding the custody of children will be made based on their best interests, regardless of the void status of the marriage. Courts can also set terms for visitation rights, ensuring that children maintain a healthy relationship with both parents.

Property Distribution: Even though no marital property rights exist, courts can intervene to ensure a fair distribution of any assets acquired during the period of cohabitation, preventing undue enrichment.


Historical and Comparative Perspectives

From Canonical to Civil Impediments

The evolution of the concept of void and voidable marriages has been significantly shaped by both religious doctrines and secular legal reforms, marking a transition from purely canonical rules to comprehensive civil statutes.

In many traditional societies, marriage was primarily governed by religious laws, which included detailed provisions on what constituted a valid or invalid marriage.

For instance, in ecclesiastical law, which heavily influenced Western legal systems, marriages could be annulled for reasons such as consanguinity, affinity, and other religious prohibitions.

Over the centuries, as societies became more secular and the needs of modern legal systems evolved, the canonical impediments were gradually incorporated into civil laws, but with significant modifications to reflect contemporary values.

This shift was primarily driven by the need to protect individual rights, promote equality, and adapt to changing social norms.

In Hindu law, the transformation was marked by the codification of religious marriage laws into the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955, which clearly defined void and voidable marriages, moving away from the more fluid and often interpretative nature of traditional Hindu legal practices.

Comparative Analysis: English Law and Void Marriages

When comparing the Indian legal framework with English law, there are notable similarities and differences in how marriages are regulated, particularly concerning void and voidable marriages.

Historically, English law, influenced by Roman Catholic teachings, considered marriage an indissoluble sacrament.

This perspective only allowed for annulment or legal separation rather than outright divorce, which meant that the concept of voidable marriages was developed to address situations where a seeming valid marriage had defects rendering it invalid if challenged.

English law treated marriages as voidable rather than void in cases of non-consummation, unsoundness of mind, duress, or fraud at the time of marriage. These marriages were considered valid until declared otherwise by a court.

This stands in contrast to the Hindu Marriage Act, where certain marriages are deemed void ab initio, such as those involving bigamy, prohibited degrees of kinship, and non-adherence to essential ceremonial requirements.

The treatment of void marriages under English law has evolved, particularly after the enactment of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which mirrored some aspects of the Hindu Marriage Act by allowing marriages to be ended on specific grounds such as adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion, thereby recognizing the dissolution of marriage as a civil right rather than a religious or moral issue.

Historical and Comparative Insights

This historical and comparative analysis illustrates how the legal concepts surrounding marriage have transformed from rigid religious doctrines to more flexible civil statutes that better accommodate individual rights and societal changes.

While both Indian and English legal systems have moved towards more secular and rights-based approaches to marriage, the specific legal mechanisms and the extent of these reforms vary, reflecting different cultural and historical trajectories.


The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, has indelibly shaped the contours of matrimonial law in India, transitioning from traditional, religiously governed practices to a more secular and equitable legal framework.

By defining and distinguishing between void and voidable marriages, the Act ensures protection of individual rights and offers precise legal recourse in cases of marital disputes. This framework not only rectifies inequalities inherent in earlier practices but also aligns with modern principles of justice and gender equality. 

Further, a comparative look at English matrimonial law reveals a similar trajectory from rigid ecclesiastical doctrines to more adaptable civil statutes, reflecting a global trend towards empowering individuals within the marital relationship and ensuring legal systems remain relevant and equitable. 


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