The aim of this article, written by Praveen Dalal managing partner of law Firm Perry4Law, is to provide an legal insight into the law-governing domicile in India and its applicability to marriage, succession and employment purposes. An effort has also been made to reconcile the conflict of laws as prevailing in the international community vis-à-vis domicile and matrimonial rights associated with it.
Domicile is primarily a private international law or conflict of laws concept that identifies a person, in cases having a foreign element, with a territory subject to a single system of law, which is regarded as his personal law. A person is domiciled in the country in which he is considered to have his permanent home. His domicile is of the whole country, being governed by common rules of law, and not confined to a part of it. No one can be without a domicile and no one can have two domiciles. A domicile of origin is attributed to every person at birth by operation of law. This domicile is not decided by his place of birth or by the place of residence of his father or mother, but by the domicile of the appropriate parent at the time of his birth, according as he is legitimate or illegitimate. It is possible for the domicile of origin to be transmitted through several generations no member of which has ever resided for any length of time in the country of the domicile of origin.
When a person is referred to as domiciled in a country, the expression “country” is used in private international law as a term of art denoting, in the words of dicey, the whole of a territory subject under one sovereign to one body of law. But in a federation like the United States, Australia, or Canada, or in a composite State like the United Kingdom, different systems of law may prevail in different regions in respect of certain matters. In such cases, each of the territories governed by a separate system of law is treated, for the purpose of private international law, as a “country”, though in public international law or constitutional law it is not a separate sovereign State. This is, however, not the position in India. Though a Union of States, and a federation in that sense, the whole country is governed by a single unified system of law, with a unified system of judicial administration, notwithstanding the constitutional distribution of legislative powers between the Centre and the States. There is no State-wise domicile within the territory of India. A man who is domiciled in India is domiciled in every State in India and identified with a territorial system of legal rules pervading throughout the country. He is ‘domiciled’ in the whole of this country, even though his permanent home may be located in a particular spot within it. Thus, the concept of “domicile” varies from country to country and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The word “domicile” should not be confused with a simple “residence”. The residence is a physical fact and no volition is needed to establish it. The animus manendi is not an essential requirement of residence, unlike in the case of a domicile of choice. Thus, any period of physical presence, however short, may constitute residence provided it is not transitory, fleeting or casual. The intention is not relevant to prove the physical fact of residence except to the extent of showing that it is not a mere fleeting or transitory existence To insist on an element of volition is to confuse the features of ‘residence’ with those of ‘domicile’. A person is ordinarily resident in a country if his residence there is not casual or uncertain, but is in the ordinary course of his life. A man may be ordinarily resident or habitually resident in more than one place. While ‘ordinary residence’ is the physical residence in regard to which intention is irrelevant, except to show that the residence is not merely fleeting, ‘habitual residence’ may denote a quality of endurance longer than ordinary residence, although duration, past or prospective, is only one of the many relevant factors, and there is no requirement of any particular minimum period. If a person resided there for the specific and limited purpose of education, he was ordinarily resident in that country, even if his permanent residence or real home was outside that country or his future intention or expectation was to live outside that country. The education, business, profession, employment, health, family, or merely love of the place are some of the reasons commonly regarded as sufficient for a choice of regular abode. It is only lawful residence that can be taken into account. If a man stays in a country in breach of immigration laws, his presence there does not constitute ordinary residence. While residence and intention are the two essential elements constituting the ‘domicile of choice’ residence in its own right is a connecting factor in a national legal system for purposes of taxation, jurisdiction, service of summons, voting etc.
The determination of domicile of an individual has a great legal significance. It helps in identifying the personal law by which an individual is governed in respect of various matters such as the essential validity of a marriage, the effect of marriage on the proprietary rights of husband and wife, jurisdiction in divorce and nullity of marriage, illegitimacy, legitimation and adoption and testamentary and intestate succession to moveables. The domicile is the legal relationship between an individual and a territory with a distinctive legal system, which invokes that system as his personal law. It is well settled that the domicile of a person is in that country in which he either has or is deemed by law to have his permanent home. The notion, which lies at the root of the concept of domicile, is that of permanent home. But it is basically a legal concept for the purpose of determining what is the personal law applicable to an individual and even if an individual has no permanent home, he is invested with a domicile by law. There are two main classes of domicile: domicile of origin that is communicated by operation of law to each person at birth, that is the domicile of his father or his mother according as he is legitimate or illegitimate and domicile of choice which every person or full age is free to acquire in substitution for that which he presently possesses. The domicile of origin attaches to an individual by birth while the domicile of choice is acquired by residence in a territory subject to a distinctive legal system, with the intention to reside there permanently or indefinitely.
Each person who has, or whom the law deems to have, his permanent home within the territorial limits of a single system of law is domiciled in the country over which the system extends; and he is domiciled in the whole of that country even though his home may be fixed at a particular spot within it. In federal states some branches of law are within the competence of the federal authorities and for these purposes the whole federation will be subject to a single system of law and an individual may be spoken of as domiciled in the federation as a whole; other branches of law are within the competence of the states or provinces of the federation and the individual will be domiciled in one state or province only. The Constitution recognises only one domicile, namely, domicile in India. Art. 5 of the Constitution is clear and explicit on this point and it refers only to one domicile, namely, “domicile in the territory of India”.
The legal system, which prevails throughout the territory of India, is one single indivisible system. It would be absurd to suggest that the Legal system varies from State to State or that the legal system of a State is different from the legal system of the Union of India, merely because with respect to the subjects within their legislative competence, the States have power to make laws. The concept of ‘domicile’ has no relevance to the applicability of municipal laws, whether made by the Union of India or by the States. It would not, therefore, be right to say that a citizen of India is domiciled in one state or another forming part of the Union of India. The domicile, which he has, is only one domicile, namely, domicile in the territory of India. When a person who is permanently resident in one State goes to another State with intention to reside there permanently or indefinitely, his domicile does not undergo any change: he does not acquire a new domicile of choice. His domicile remains the same, namely, Indian domicile. Moreover to think in terms of state domicile with be highly detrimental to the concept of unity and integrity of India.
The law of domicile in India can be traced under the Indian Succession Act, 1925. The domicile under the provisions of the Act can be classified under the following categories:
(i) Domicile of origin,
(ii) Domicile of choice, and
(iii) Domicile by operation of law.
(i) Domicile Of Origin: Every person must have a personal law, and accordingly every one must have a domicile. He receives at birth a domicile of origin, which remains his domicile, wherever he goes, unless and until he acquires a new domicile. The new domicile, acquired subsequently, is generally called a domicile of choice. The domicile of origin is received by operation of law at birth and for acquisition of a domicile of choice one of the necessary conditions is the intention to remain there permanently. The domicile of origin is retained and cannot be divested until the acquisition of the domicile of choice. By merely leaving his country, even permanently, one will not, in the eye of law, lose his domicile until he acquires a new one. This proposition that the domicile of origin is retained until the acquisition of a domicile of choice is well established and does not admit of any exception.
(ii) Domicile Of Choice: The domicile of origin continues until he acquires a domicile of choice in another country. Upon abandonment of a domicile of choice, he may acquire a new domicile of choice, or his domicile of origin, which remained in abeyance, revives. The burden of proving a change of domicile is on him who asserts it. The domicile of origin is more tenacious. “Its character is more enduring, its hold stronger and less easily shaken off. The burden of proving that a domicile of origin is abandoned is needed much heavier than in the case of a domicile of choice. No domicile of choice can be acquired by entering a country illegally. The domicile of choice is a combination of residence and intention. Residence, which is a physical fact, means bodily presence as an inhabitant. Such residence must be combined with intention to reside permanently or for an unlimited time in a country. It is such intention coupled with residence that acquires him a new domicile. It is immaterial for this purpose that the residence is for a short duration, provided it is coupled with the requisite state of the mind, namely the intention to reside there permanently. If a man intends to return to the land of his birth upon a clearly foreseen and reasonably anticipated contingency, such as, the end of his studies, he lacks the intention required by law. His tastes, habits, conduct, actions, ambitions, health, hopes, and projects are keys to his intention. That place is properly the domicile of a person in which he has voluntarily fixed the habitation of himself and his family, not for a mere special and temporary purpose, but with a present intention of making it his permanent home, unless and until something (which is unexpected or the happening of which is uncertain) shall occur to induce him to adopt some other permanent home.
The only intention required for a proof of a change of domicile is an intention of permanent residence. What is required to be established is that the person who is alleged to have changed his domicile of origin has voluntarily fixed the habitation of himself and his family in, the, new country, not for a mere special or temporary purpose, but with a present intention of making it his permanent home. On the question of domicile at a particular time the course of his conduct and the facts and circumstances before and after that time are relevant.
(c) Domicile By Operation Of Law. (Married Women’s Domicile): The rules of Private International Law in India are not codified and are scattered in different enactments such as the Civil Procedure Code, the Contract Act, the Indian Succession Act, the Indian Divorce Act, and the Special Marriage Act etc. In addition, some rules have also been evolved by judicial decisions. In matters of status or legal capacity of natural persons, matrimonial disputes, custody of children, adoption, testamentary and intestate succession etc. the problem in this country is complicated by the fact that there exist different personal laws and no uniform rule can be laid down for all citizens. The distinction between matters which concern personal and family affairs and those which concern commercial relationships, civil wrongs etc. is well recognised in other countries and legal systems. The law in the former area tends to be primarily determined and influenced by social, moral and religious considerations, and public policy plays a special and important role in shaping it. Hence, in almost all the countries the jurisdictional, procedural and substantive rules that are applied to disputes arising in this area are significantly different from those applied to claims in other areas. That is as it ought to be. For, no country can afford to sacrifice its internal unity, stability and tranquility for the sake of uniformity of rules and comity of nations which considerations are important and appropriate to facilitate international trade, commerce, industry, communication, transport, exchange of services, technology, manpower etc. This glaring Tact of national life has been recognised both by the Hague Convention of 1968 on the Recognition of Divorce and Legal Separations as well as by the Judgments Convention of the European Community of the same year. Article 10 of the Hague Convention expressly provides that the contracting States may refuse to recognise a divorce or legal separation if such recognition is manifestly incompatible with their public policy. The Judgments Convention of the European Community expressly excludes from its scope (a) status or legal capacity of natural persons, (b) rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship, (c) wills and succession, (d) social security, and (e) bankruptcy. A separate convention was contemplated for the last of the subjects.
We cannot also lose sight of the fact that today more than ever in the past; the need for definitive rules for recognition of foreign judgments in personal and family matters, and particularly in matrimonial disputes has surged to the surface. Many a man and woman of this land with different personal laws have migrated and are migrating to different countries either to make their permanent abode there or for temporary residence. Likewise there is also immigration of the nationals of other countries. The advancement in communication and transportation has also made it easier for individuals to hop from one country to another. It is also not unusual to come across cases where citizens of this country have been contracting marriages either in this country or abroad with nationals of the other countries or among themselves, or having married here, either both or one of them migrate to other countries. There are also cases where parties having married here have been either domiciled or residing separately in different foreign countries. This migration, temporary or permanent, has also been giving rise to various kinds of matrimonial disputes destroying in its turn the family and its peace. A large number of foreign decrees in matrimonial matters are becoming the order of the day.
The jurisdiction assumed by the foreign court as well as the grounds on which the relief is granted must be in accordance with the matrimonial law under which the parties are married. The exceptions to this rule may be as follows: (i) where the matrimonial action is filed in the forum where the respondent is domiciled or habitually and permanently resides and the relief is granted on a ground available in the matrimonial law under which the parties are married; (ii) where the respondent voluntarily and effectively submits to the jurisdiction of the forum as discussed above and contests the claim which is based on a ground available under the matrimonial law under which the parties are married; (iii) where the respondent consents to the grant of the relief although the jurisdiction of the forum is not in accordance with the provisions of the matrimonial law of the parties.
The aforesaid rule with its stated exceptions has the merit of being just and equitable. It does no injustice to any of the parties. The parties do and ought to know their rights and obligations when they marry under a particular law. They cannot be heard to make a grievance about it later or allowed to bypass it by subterfuges as in the present case. The rule also has an advantage of rescuing the institution of marriage from the uncertain maze of the rules of the Private International Law of the different countries with regard to jurisdiction and merits based variously on domicile, nationality, residence — permanent or temporary or ad hoc, forum, proper law etc. and ensuring certainty in the most vital field of national life and conformity with public policy. The rule further takes account of the needs of modern life and makes due allowance to accommodate them. Above all, it gives protection to women, the most vulnerable section of our society, whatever the strata to which they may belong. In particular it frees them from the bondage of the tyrannical and servile rule that wife’s domicile follows that of her husband and that it is the husband’s domiciliary law, which determines the jurisdiction and judges the merits of the case.
In Dr.Pradeep Jain v U.O.I the Supreme Court observed: “The entire country is taken as one nation with one citizenship and every effort of the Constitution makers is directed towards emphasizing, maintaining and preserving the unity and integrity of the nation. Now if India is one nation and there is only one citizenship, namely, citizenship of India, and every citizen has a right to move freely throughout the territory of India and to reside and settle in any part of India, irrespective of the place where he is born or the language which he speaks or the religion which he professes and he is guaranteed freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse throughout the territory of India and is entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of the law with other citizens in every part of the territory of India, it is difficult to see how a citizen having his permanent home in Tamil Nadu or speaking Tamil language can be regarded as an outsider in Uttar Pradesh or a citizen having his permanent home in Maharashtra or speaking Marathi language be regarded as an outsider in Karnataka. He must be held entitled to the same rights as a citizen having his permanent home in Uttar Pradesh or Karnataka, as the case may be. To regard him as an outsider would be to deny him his constitutional rights and to derecognise the essential unity and integrity of the country by treating it as if it were a mere conglomeration of independent States”.
In Dr.Yogesh Bhardwaj v State of U.P the Supreme Court observed: “Domicile’, being a private international law concept, is inapposite to the relevant provisions, having no foreign element, i.e., having no contact with any system of law other than Indian, unless that expression is understood in a less technical sense. An expression, which has acquired a special and technical connotation, and developed as a rule of choice or connecting factor amongst the competing diverse legal systems as to the choice of law or forum, is, when employed out of context, in situations having no contact with any foreign system of law, apt to cloud the intended import of the statutory instrument.
In Mr. Louis De Raedt v U.O.I the Supreme Court observed: “For the acquisition of a domicile of choice, it must be shown that the person concerned had a certain State of mind, the animus manendi. If he claims that he acquired a new domicile at a particular time, he must prove that he had formed the intention of making his permanent home in the country of residence and of continuing to reside there permanently. Residence alone, unaccompanied by this state of mind, is insufficient. The burden to prove that the petitioners had an intention to stay permanently in India lies on them. The fundamental right of the foreigner is confined to Article 21 for life and liberty and does not include the right to reside and settle in this country, as mentioned in Article 19(1)(e), which is applicable only to the citizens of this country. The power of the Government in India to expel foreigners is absolute and unlimited and there is no provision in the Constitution fettering this discretion. The legal position on this aspect is not uniform in all the countries but so far the law that operates in India is concerned, the Executive Government has unrestricted right to expel a foreigner”.
In Y. Narasimha Rao V Y. Venkata Lakshmi the Supreme Court observed: “As pointed out above, the present decree dissolving the marriage passed by the foreign court is without jurisdiction according to the Act as neither the marriage was celebrated nor the parties last resided together nor the respondent resided within the jurisdiction of that court. The decree is also passed on a ground that is not available under the Act, which is applicable to the marriage. What is further, the decree has been obtained by appellant 1 by stating that he was the resident of the Missouri State when the record shows that he was only a bird of passage there and was ordinarily a resident of the State of Louisiana. He had, if at all, only technically satisfied the requirement of residence of 90 days with the only purpose of obtaining the divorce. He was neither domiciled in that State nor had he an intention to make it his home. He had also no substantial connection with the forum”.
The law of domicile in India is crystal clear and is free from any ambiguities. The same is important for resolving the “conflict of laws” in India. There seems to be an ignorance of the concept in its true perspective in India. There is an urgent need to spread “public awareness” in this regard.
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