Law of Succession under Special Marriage Act

The Special Marriage Act, 1954 provides legal recognition to inter-faith marriages in India. However, a problem arises in determining rightful ownership of such couples’ properties in case of succession.

The subject of inheritance is dealt exclusively by the personal and family laws of the different religions in India. This poses a dilemma of determining which law of succession to consider for a child born out of a marriage registered under the Special Marriage Act.

History

In 1925, the Indian Succession Act was implemented to cater to this predicament. The Act establishes that a couple married under the Special Marriage Act has to take severance from a joint family, in order to override the succession laws of their respective religions.

Succession Laws in Case of Civil Marriages

The Special Marriage Act calls for the registration of a marriage in a civil ceremony. The position of succession in the case of a civil marriage is as follows:

  • If both parties to the civil marriage are Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Buddhist, The Indian Succession Act will cease to be valid. The Hindu Succession Act will govern the parties.
  • If only one party is a Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Buddhist and the practices another religion, the Indian Succession Act is applicable.
  • When a Muslim, Christian or Parsi opts for a civil marriage, within or outside his/her community, the Indian Succession Act is applicable.

Special Marriage Act and Succession: A Final Word

While the Special Marriage Act, of 1954 has created a feasible scope for succession, individuals are still hesitant to register under the Act. This is because most religious segments in India give high importance to their respective personal laws of succession; and the prospect of giving it away compels them to disregard the Act.

For instance, in Islamic Law, the scope of inheritance is drawn directly from the Holy Qur’an, inhibiting Muslims from seeking legal recognition under the Special Marriage Act.