It is now perfectly legal for a woman to retain her maiden name after marriage. The Bombay high court recently amended a crucial rule under the Family Courts Act to prevent a woman from being compelled to file any marriage-related proceedings only in her husband’s surname, thus offering relief to many seeking a divorce. It will also help a married woman file proceedings in other courts under her maiden name, say legal experts.
The radical rule says that “a wife who has not changed her name after marriage, by publishing in the official gazette, may continue to use her maiden name”. The law is clear now: a woman is not obliged to take her husband’s name after marriage.
A woman can file proceedings either in her maiden name or another name she may have adopted as long as it is officially registered in the gazette. If she retains her maiden name, a woman cannot be forced by a court to write her name as her first name followed by her husband’s first name and his surname while making a marriage-related petition.
Flavia Agnes of the women’s rights activist group Majlis, whose efforts led to this change, sees the amendment as a “progressive new addition to the law for women”. Majlis’ efforts ensured that a woman can continue to use her maiden name and surname if she so desires after marriage for all official purposes. She is not bound to use her husband’s name and can initiate proceedings in any court using her maiden name. The ‘after divorce’ status, meanwhile, does not force a woman to revert to her maiden surname if she had been using her husband’s surname all through the marriage. She can continue with the ex-husband’s surname, unless her intention is to defraud him, as was held by the Supreme Court.
Unknown to even lawyers, the new law stands published in the state gazette since last November, after the Bombay high court amended a crucial rule under the Family Courts Act in September 2011.
The law has been hailed by women’s rights activists and lawyers. “A woman cannot be compelled while seeking divorce to adopt her married surname if she hadn’t been using it, just as she cannot be compelled to drop her married name and revert to maiden surname after divorce, if she had been,” said a lawyer.
“Prior to the amendment, the Bandra family court staff would not accept divorce or related applications from hundreds of women until they added the first name of their estranged husband as their middle name, and also his surname,” said Agnes. The court staff would compel the quarrelling couple to bear only one surname-the husband’s-in the court case to be filed.
A year ago, Majlis took up the cause with the Bombay high court because it supervises functioning of all lower courts. The issue, said Majlis, was that in Maharashtra, many communities practised the custom of a new wife changing even her first name after marriage and adopting her husband’s full name. But other communities from states across India do not usually follow this custom, though it’s common for women to adopt the husband’s surname.
- Not Taking Hubby’s Name? You May Be Judged Harshly (livescience.com)