Understanding the Hindu Marriage Act Helpful for U.S. Immigration07 Nov 2016
Since 2006, couples in India who wed under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 are required to register their marriages. Contrary to what many believe, however, under Indian law, a failure to register one’s marriage generally does not impact the legal validity of the marriage. When a couple who is married under the Act incorrectly believes that the marriage is not legally recognized because it was not registered, this can cause the couple to provide inaccurate information in U.S. immigration filings, and lead to potential immigration problems.
Overview of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955
Unlike in the U.S., there are special laws in India based on a citizen’s religion or faith, particularly as related to matters of marriage and divorce. If two Hindus wish to wed in India, they must do so pursuant to the Hindu Marriage Act. In this situation, the marriage is only valid if all of the following conditions are met:
- the parties are single
- the parties are capable of giving valid consent
- the bridegroom is at least 21 years old and the bride is at least 18 years old
- the parties are not within the degrees of prohibited family relationships, unless the custom or usage of each party permits such a marriage
The Hindu Marriage Act further states that, should the religious ceremony for the wedding include the saptapadi (i.e. seven steps by bridegroom and bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage is complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.
Failure to Register Does Not Impact Validity of Marriage
On June 14, 2006, the Indian Supreme Court in Smt. Seema V/s Ashwani Kumar mandated that all marriages performed under the act must be registered with the appropriate registrar of marriages. If a couple fails to register, they may be subject to a monetary fine. Failure to register the marriage, however, has no impact on the legal validity of the marriage.
Confusion Over Validity of Marriage Can Lead to U.S. Immigration Problems
Under U.S. immigration law, in most situations, if a couple is considered legally married in the country where the wedding took place, the couple is considered legally married in the United States, as well. Over the years, the Murthy Law Firm has received many inquiries from couples who wed in India pursuant to the Hindu Marriage Act, yet failed to register the marriage, causing them to believe mistakenly that they were not yet legally married. This can lead to immigration problems in a number of ways. For instance, a foreign national may incorrectly list one’s marital status as ‘single’ on an online nonimmigrant visa application (form DS-160). Another common problem that arises is that the couple, believing that the unregistered marriage in India is not valid, remarries in the United States, and then uses the date of the U.S. wedding as the official date the couple was wed on all immigration filings. These types of errors may not seem serious, but they can lead to all manner of immigration problems.
Solutions can be Complex to Address Past Errors in Filings
If a foreign national in this situation has provided incorrect information related to a marriage (e.g., using the date of marriage in U.S. rather than the date of the Indian wedding), the solution may vary depending upon the person’s specific circumstances. Simply providing the correct information in future filings may not suffice, as this inconsistency may create problems. Yet, continuing to provide the wrong information could possibly be considered a form of immigration fraud. Couples facing a situation such as this should consult with an experienced attorney who can review their specific fact pattern and advise them on how best to proceed.
When getting married in India under the Hindu Marriage Act, a couple should take the time to register the marriage with the appropriate authority after the marriage takes place. Still, those who have failed to register need to recognize that the marriage still is generally valid under both Indian and U.S. laws. The Murthy Law Firm shares this general information to provide insight to couples who married under the act as to how this may impact them from a U.S. immigration standpoint. Those who require more specific advice regarding the requirements of the Hindu Marriage Act should consult with an attorney who specializes in this area of Indian law.
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