Contract Act Family law

From Contract to Con: NRI Sham Marriages Explained

The article “From Contract to Con: NRI Sham Marriages Explained” is written by Khyati Sinha, a second-year law student at Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad


The institution of marriage is initiated by a contract but comes with several rights, duties and other incidents. Marriage is the most significant social institution, and legislative law and court processes play a major role in supporting and optimizing it. In light of this, the Indian legislature and all levels of courts have concentrated their attention on marriage laws and other policies about the welfare of women. Indian women who are forced into sham marriages with foreign Indians have become more and more well-known over time. This has highlighted the critical need to establish safeguards to protect these women and educate them about their rights and responsibilities as well as the safety nets and social defence mechanisms that are out there and could be of assistance to them. Normally, the parties want to establish the marriage relationship with all of its inadmissible incidents, or at least accept it. The participants in a marriage ceremony may occasionally have narrower intentions. Some or all of these in excludible incidents may be wished to be excluded, and one or both parties may even intend to not be “really” married at all. The “abnormal” intent can show up in a variety of situations.  

NRI marriages refer to marital unions between one person based in India and an NRI, or two people based in India who migrate after marriage or two NRIs. The NRI in these cases may either be an Indian citizen residing abroad or a person of Indian origin who is a citizen of another country. Several Indian women’s families are eager to get their daughters married to men who live abroad due to perceived notions of higher pay grades and more comfortable lifestyles in developed countries. In their eagerness, these families may not do the required check on the NRI suitor, which can lead to several problems- Desertion, Torture and Isolation, Not being Received at the Airport, and False Details about Residence and Job.  

Non-resident Indian (NRI) husbands’ tendency to leave their married wives is a major problem in Indian society. Spouses find themselves abandoned in foreign countries without any support or means of sustenance, and lacking a valid visa to stay in the country. During court proceedings for divorce or maintenance, individuals can come across legal obstacles related to the delivery of notices or orders, the implementation of orders, or the jurisdiction of the court. Often, non-resident Indian husbands deliberately refrain from officially registering their marriages. This deliberate omission creates a major barrier for a spouse who wants to apply for a visa to visit their partner abroad because their application is incomplete without a marriage certificate. Further complicating matters, the spouse who resides in a different country may also deny the existence of the marriage

Married women being deserted by their non-resident Indian husbands is a significant social issue. Spouses who are destitute in foreign nations lack all resources, including support and a visa to enter the nation. When filing for divorce or maintenance, they encounter legal roadblocks pertaining to the court’s jurisdiction, serving notice or orders, and upholding orders. The NRI husbands purposefully choose not to have their marriages registered on multiple occasions. When a spouse tries to apply for a visa to join their spouse overseas, this intentional omission becomes a major obstacle because their application is incomplete without a marriage certificate. To make matters even more complicated, the spouse living overseas occasionally also disputes the existence of the marriage itself. The growing number of these unreported marriages among NRIs brings up serious concerns about this trend. 


Overseas Indian marriages may give rise to the issue of women being deserted due to various factors. Prior to her departure to her husband’s foreign residence or her temporary visit to a foreign country, she may be either repatriated or compelled to flee within a year. Issues may arise as a result of a woman herself or her parents being extorted for large dowry payments, both before and after marriage. Another issue may be women discovering later that their spouse is already married to another woman in a different country, and continues to live with them. Additionally, cases of domestic violence may also contribute to the problems faced by women. 

Indian women encounter issues such as abandonment and unilateral divorce, which have been expressed in various platforms, including the media. The prevalent challenges encountered by Indian women in Overseas Indian/NRI marriages encompass – 

  1. Abandonment of the wife – There is a significant number of reported cases in different communities where Indian women, who are married to NRI husbands, are abandoned in India shortly after getting married. Following a brief visit to India, the husband returns to his home country abroad, making a promise to send the wife her travel documents, visa, and other necessary paperwork. However, he fails to fulfil this promise. The husband exhibits a consistent pattern of neglect by abstaining from both phone calls and written correspondence, as well as by refraining from returning to his wife. The in-laws residing in India would either express their inability to assist or outright decline to aid the innocent girl. Occasionally, a woman may find herself in a situation where she successfully travels to her husband’s foreign residence, only to discover upon arrival at the international airport that neither her husband nor anyone else has come to greet her. This leaves her vulnerable and dependent on unfamiliar people from a foreign country. 
  1. Domestic Violence – The woman travels to her husband’s residence in the foreign nation, where she is subjected to both mental and physical domestic violence. Additionally, she experiences malnourishment, confinement, and mistreatment by her husband in various ways. Consequently, she is compelled to either escape or is compelled to return by force. In the majority of instances, she may be prohibited from bringing her children along. Often, the children are forcefully separated from the woman. 
  1. NRI husband already married– When the woman gets to the country where her NRI husband resides, she finds out that he still lives with his first wife and is already married there. He might have entered into this second marriage to appease his parents or, occasionally, to use her as domestic help or to take money from the bride. 
  1. Continued demands for dowry, pre and post marriage – The woman, and possibly her parents as well, are being extorted for a substantial dowry payment, either in cash or goods, both before and after marriage. This situation not only makes her life miserable but also puts her at risk in her husband’s country of residence. She becomes dependent on her husband and is forced to continuously comply with dowry demands. Failure to do so may result in her being subjected to atrocities, harassment, and other forms of mistreatment. 


The prevalence of unsuccessful and deceitful marriages between Indian women and NRIs is steadily escalating. The legal challenges pertaining to NRI marriages encountered by Indian women encompass:

  1. Matters pertaining to child custody- 

In recent years, child custody disputes have emerged as a result of fraudulent NRI marriages. Certain situations involve fathers taking their children to foreign countries, whereas in others, mothers return to India with their children and struggle to survive in the foreign country’s hostile environment. 

The court is faced with a challenging task when it comes to determining the custody of children in NRI marriages. Frequently, parents pursue custody according to foreign legislation rather than Indian legislation, irrespective of whether the marriage was carried out in accordance with Indian laws. The court underscored the paramount importance of the child’s welfare in its decisions regarding custody of a minor. The custody will be granted to the individual who can offer the highest level of well-being for the child. This Court has the authority to review the issue of custody either on its own initiative or upon the request of the father or mother. The current order may be upheld, changed, adjusted, or revoked.

In Sarita Sharma v. Sushil Sharma , The divorce proceedings was initiated by husband in American courts and, during the ongoing custody dispute, both parties were appointed as managing conservators of the children. However, the children were allegedly brought to India by wife without informing the husband. The husband claimed that Sarita Sharma had illegally taken custody of the children. The High Court granted the husband’s plea mandated Sarita to relinquish custody of both of their children to him. 

  1. Matters pertaining to divorce and separation-  

In the majority of cases involving NRI marriages, spouses abstain from their partners until the union dissolves. Subsequent to this, they commence divorce proceedings in foreign countries. For women who are abandoned outside the country, these proceedings are fraught with complications; if the wife lacks the financial means to contest the proceeding abroad, her husband can obtain an ex-parte divorce decree with relative ease. The wives lack the financial means to retain an attorney to advocate for their rights and engage in litigation on their behalf. Thus, the majority of these abandoned women are compelled to automatically accept an ex parte divorce. 

The most celebrated case in this regard is the decision of the Supreme Court in Y Narsimha Rao and Ors. v. Y. Venkata Lakshmi and Anr. These cases show how the Indian courts have protected wives in NRI marriages from ex parte procedures started elsewhere without their involvement. Many contend—citing these grounds—that India would not benefit from signing bilateral treaties or conventions acknowledging divorce decrees issued by foreign courts. Starting legal actions in Indian courts presents extra difficulties for wives. The husband’s foreign location presents difficulties for courts trying to quickly and effectively issue summons to him. Consequently, matrimonial processes in India cause great time loss.

  1. Matters pertaining to dowry-  

A considerable number of cases demonstrate a pattern where substantial dowry demands are made both during and persistently after marriage. The act of refusing to provide dowry leads to the mistreatment and physical harm of the wife. The wife is confronted with two options: enduring the mistreatment due to her lack of prospects and feelings of insecurity, or actually departing from the marital residence to evade it. In the second scenario, the husband and his family decline to give back the dowry and the wife’s stridhan, which is her rightful claim according to the law. 

Section 498A specifically deals with the issue of cruelty inflicted by a husband or his relatives. The law stipulates that individuals who inflict mental or physical cruelty upon a woman in connection with the request for dowry will face penalties, including imprisonment and/or a monetary fine. The purpose of this provision is to safeguard women from dowry harassment and discourage such behaviour. Furthermore, the Criminal Code includes Section 406 which specifically deals with criminal violations of trust. If an individual who has been given responsibility for dowry-related assets or valuable collateral misappropriates or converts them for personal use or dishonestly disposes of them, they may be subject to imprisonment and/or a monetary penalty. 



The issue of abandoned NRI women is grave and necessitates immediate attention. The study yields several suggested solutions:

  1. In order to address the issue of NRI marriage fraud effectively, it is crucial to enforce the requirement for the registration of all NRI marriages with the relevant authorities in both the bride’s home country and the groom’s country of residence. This guarantees the existence of an authoritative documentation of the marriage, facilitating the process of monitoring and confirming its validity. The procedure should encompass a meticulous authentication of documents such as passports, visas, and identification cards in order to deter the utilization of counterfeit identities. This measure serves the purpose of not only verifying the genuineness of the marriage but also establishing a legal structure that can be consulted in the event of disagreements.
  1. It is essential to create a centralized database that stores comprehensive information about Non-Resident Indian (NRI) individuals, including details about their marital status and criminal history. The database should be made available to government authorities and legal entities for the purpose of verification. In addition, mandating that NRI grooms obtain a background check certificate from recognized authorities guarantees that they do not have any prior marital or criminal complications. The inclusion of this certificate in the marriage registration process should be obligatory, as it offers an additional level of assurance and tranquillity for the bride and her family.
  1. For the purpose of jurisdiction, undoubtedly in the absence of clear guidelines, it is difficult to deal with issues relating to jurisdiction of courts being one of the parties to marriages present in a foreign country. To deal with such issues necessary changes can be done in Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or specific provisions relating to jurisdiction of courts may be laid down in the new law viz. “Prevention and Protection of NRI Marriage Act.
  1. The scope of Private International Law must be extended by entering into treaties or bilateral agreements with foreign countries explicitly providing for the jurisdiction and competency of courts to hear the matrimonial litigations of NRI couples. The Indian government ought to forge bilateral agreements with nations harbouring a substantial Indian diaspora in order to engage in legal proceedings against wrongdoers, guided by the principle of reciprocity, particularly by invoking Section 44A of the Code of Civil Procedure and Section 3 of the Maintenance Orders Enforcement Act of 1921. This agreement would facilitate the acknowledgment and implementation of divorce decrees, maintenance orders, child custody arrangements, and other foreign legal orders.


The issues surrounding the abandonment of Indian women by their foreign spouses are intricate and delicate. They are also subject to private international law. The Ministry’s approach to addressing these issues involves raising awareness among potential brides and their families about their rights and responsibilities, as well as the precautions to take when entering into marriage with grooms living abroad. Marriage to a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) is widely regarded as the most convenient means of immigrating to another country. However, the majority of these turned out to be fraudulent, which has significant consequences not only for the woman and her family, but also for society as a whole. The issues of jurisdiction commonly arise in various aspects of family law, such as divorce, spousal support, recognition and enforcement of foreign court orders, parental child abduction, and inheritance of property by non-resident Indians. Legal, social, and emotional hurdles abound when Indian women’s husbands who are non-resident Indians (NRIs) leave them.

The existing legal framework inadequately addresses the intricacies of NRI marriages, leading to problems such as unregistered marriages, divorces granted in the absence of one party, disputes over child custody, and demands for dowry. According to the study, it is essential to implement mandatory registration of NRI marriages, establish a centralized database for NRIs, and create bilateral agreements to recognize foreign court orders in order to safeguard women’s rights. Legal reforms, whether by modifying current statutes or enacting new laws, are imperative to guarantee justice and assistance for these women. It is advisable to establish a core committee of specialists in Private International Law to oversee these legislative modifications, thus ensuring that the legal system can proficiently tackle and resolve this complex matter.


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