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India: Amendment Considered for 1869 Christian Law of Divorce

(June 1, 2009) The Law Commission of India, which has the responsibility of drafting new laws and suggesting amendments to other laws, received a suggestion from the High Court of Madras that the Christian Law of Divorce (The Divorce Act., No. 4, 1869) be amended.

The 1869 Law was enacted by the British when India, together with the territory that is now Pakistan, was their colony. Section 2 of the Act states that no relief in the form of dissolution or nullification of marriage may be granted by an Indian court unless both parties to the marriage are domiciled in India at the time.

The objective of the provision, apparently, was not to subject United Kingdom-domiciled parties to the jurisdiction of courts in India, since at the time Christians were generally considered residents of the U.K. The Law Commission, in a report to the Indian government recommending amendment of this old law, stated: “the Act was enacted in 1869 [and amended in 1926] to suit the convenience of the Britishers in India.” It further noted that the High Court had pointed out that if the provision could be construed to mean that a petition would be maintainable if, at the time of its presentation, either party was domiciled in India, the petitioner's difficulty would be over and, at the same time, the objective would be achieved. (J. Venkatesan, Amendment to Divorce Act Suggested, THE HINDU, May 11, 2009, available at

The Commission has presented the report to the government and, concurring with the suggestion of the High Court, has recommended adoption of the amendment. (Id.)