In India, a marriage is considered to be very sacred, but with the changing times, it has become a subject of great judicial scrutiny. People of different religions, as well as traditions, are regulated by a diverse set of personal laws that relate to family affairs. Prior to 1984, all family matters were resolved by the ordinary civil court judges who used to look after the recovery matters. In 1984, the family Courts Act was passed and came into force. The main objective of the act was to take family and marital disputes out from the overcrowded and traditional courts of law and to bring them in the sympathetic surrounding. Matrimonial litigation is a traumatic experience in the lives of partners and their children. The aim was to conciliate between the estranged family members and not in confrontation.
From 1955, when the Hindu Marriage Act was passed, till date, several amendments are made to liberalise the grounds for divorce and many other family issues. The process of settling the matrimonial disputes includes divorce, judicial separation, maintenance, settlement of property, etc. which are time-consuming and expensive.
To achieve the objectives, the government is put under obligation to establish family courts mainly in the cities and towns as the population of cities and villages exceeds one million. However, the state government may also establish family courts wherever it feels necessary. As per the Family Court Act, the state government can consult their respective high courts and specify the local limits of the area, where family courts can be established.
It states that every petition under this Act, shall be presented to the district court within the local limits of whose ordinary original civil jurisdiction, the marriage was solemnized, or the respondent resides at the time of presentation of the petition, or the place where parties to the marriage last lived together, or the place where petitioner is residing at the time of submission of petition, in case if respondent is at the time, residing outside the territories to which this act extends, or has been heard of being alive for a period of seven years or more by that person who would naturally have heard of being alive.
In case the wife is the petitioner, she can file a divorce petition at the place where she resided at the time of presentation of the petition.
Jurisdiction of Family Courts:
Section 7 (1) and (2) of the Family Courts Act of 1984, describes the kind of disputes over which the family court has the jurisdiction. It states that subject to other provisions of this act, a family court shall have and can exercise the jurisdiction exercisable by any district court or any subordinate civil court under any law for the time being in force with respect to suits or proceedings. A family court shall be deemed to exercise the jurisdiction under such law, to be a district court or as the case may be any subordinate civil court in the area to which the jurisdiction of Civil Courts in the area to which jurisdiction of family court extends.
The suits and proceedings referred in the above-mentioned section are suits and proceedings of the following nature between the parties to the petition:
- For a decree of nullity of marriage (declaring the marriage to be null and void, or as the case may be) or restitution of conjugal rights or judicial separation or dissolution of marriage.
- For the validity of a marriage or as the matrimonial status of the person
- For the property of the parties or property of either of them.
- For order or injunction in the situation arising out of a marital relationship.
- For the declaration as to the legitimacy of any person.
- For maintenance
- For guardianship of the person or the custody of, or access to the minor.
Subject to the other provisions of the act, the family court also exercises:
- The jurisdiction is exercisable by the magistrate of the First class relating to the order for maintenance of wife, children and parents.
- Any such jurisdiction that may be conferred on it by any other enactment or amendment.
The territorial jurisdiction of the family court is limited to that of a district court as per the notifications released by the state government with the consultation of High Court. The State government has the authority to reduce or increase its territorial limits from time to time, depending on the factors and circumstances of the matter. The state government and High Court can confer the jurisdiction only to a limited area.
Jurisdiction for property dispute matters:
As per the Family Court Act, 1984, section 7 (c) deals explicitly with the issues related to the property disputes of the parties to the marriage. The conflict that arises after the decree of divorce is passed. To deal with the property matter of the parties of the marriage, the family court should exercise its jurisdiction by satisfying two conditions:
- The property dispute must be between the parties to the marriage only
- The dispute should be in respect to the property of either of the parties.
It should be noted that the family court has no jurisdiction to deal with the property matters between the members of the joint family.
The SC in K.A Abdul Jaleelvs T.A. Shahida stated that with respect to division bench in a matter arising out of a preliminary issue on the question of jurisdiction held that the dispute over the properties of parties to marriage could not be confined to the parties to a subsisting marriage.
Jurisdiction as per subject matter:
All matrimonial disputes and disputes relating to maintenance under section 125 of CrPCis adjudicated under the jurisdiction of a particular district. The family court also exercises the jurisdiction in respect of suits or proceedings between parties to the marriage for the decree of nullity of marriage, restitution of conjugal rights, dissolution of marriage, judicial separation, validity of marriage, guardianship, custody and access to minor, legitimacy of any person. Family matters are to be viewed from a different perspective. Family Court seeks to promote conciliation in family matters.
The SC in Bhuwan Mohan Singh vsMeena&Ors held that family courts are established for the conciliation procedure and to deal with family disputes in a speedy and expeditious manner. Delay in adjudication by family courts is against the human rights and dignity of an individual.
Jurisdiction of High Court:
The jurisdiction of the district court was transferred to the family court as per section 7 of the Family Court Act. But the legislation did not clearly exclude the original matrimonial jurisdiction exercised by High Court. This clause of the Family Court Act led to considerable confusion and ambiguity during the initial phase and became contradictory judicial interpretation.
Overriding effect of the Family Courts Act on other laws:
As held by SC in BalramYadavvsFalmaniyaYadav, the section 7 (1) explanation (b) states that a suit or proceeding declaring the validity of both marriage and matrimonial status of a person within the exclusive jurisdiction of family court, under Section 8, all those jurisdictions covered under section 7 are excluded from the purview of the jurisdiction of Civil Courts.
In case a dispute is observed on the marital status of any person, a declaration in that regards has to be sought only before the Family Court. Section 20 of the Family Court Act, 1984 also endorses that this act shall have an overriding effect on other laws.