Woman can't use husband's name after divorce: Supreme Court

Must a name mean something? Asks Alice as she travels through Wonderland while William Shakespeare famously asked "What's in a name?" To a Mumbai resident it definitely meant something as he fought a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court to stop his ex-wife from using his surname. Fifty-three-year-old Mr. Dinesh Patil, an Assistant Police Inspector with the Mumbai police, finally won the battle with the apex court recently dismissing an application by his former wife Nisha (34) to continue using her ex-husband's name after their divorce. "We are not inclined to interfere with the impugned order (passed by the Bombay High Court and family court)," said the apex court.

Till date there is no law governing the issue. Thus the SC order can be cited as a precedent for any man who objects to his former wife whom he has divorced from continuing to use his surname. A woman acquires her matrimonial surname by virtue of her marriage. When the marriage is dissolved, the man definitely has the right to take recourse to the law to restrain his former wife from using his name.

Earlier this year, additional solicitor-general Darius Khambata had given a legal opinion in another case that a divorced woman could use her former husband's name. "The wife has a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India (right to life) to use any name including her married name not with standing the fact that her marriage has been dissolved," Khambata had submitted in a case where the passport office had refused to renew the passport of a divorced Pune woman in her former married surname. However, in that case the man did not have any objection to his former wife using his surname.

In the present case, Patil had married Nisha in 1995. Patil filed for divorce in 1997 and a family court dissolved the marriage in 2006. When Nisha sough more maintenance, Patil moved an application seeking to bar her from continuing to use his surname. He claimed that she was misusing his name.

The family court in 2009 passed an injunction to stop her using her former husband's name. "By using the name/ surname (of the husband), there is always a possibility of people being misled that she still is his wife, when in fact she is not," observed the family court judge. A year later, the Hon’ble High Court in February 2010 agreed and said that Nisha cannot use the husband's name anywhere, including in her bank account.

Nisha then filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court seeking to challenge the HC order. Her petition contended that the family court did not have jurisdiction to give an order in the matter of surname. "There is no rule governing (the issue of) using the surname of the ex-husband after divorce," Nisha argued, adding, "Surname is not a trademark which can be patented by an individual." The apex court dismissed Nisha's petition.

Adv. R. P. Rathod says that though some wife’s continue to use the names of their husband even after divorce, the SC order can be cited as a precedent for any man who objects to his former wife whom he has divorced from continuing to use his surname. He further emphasis that some women’s were Mangal Sutra, Rings, Bangles, bindi’s , etc after their marriage as part of their rituals, religious & own beliefs, similarly changing the name after marriage is not a Statutory requirement it is just part of the said beliefs, for convenience of their life & for other financial reasons. But this is just a Judgment & a judicial precedent and not a law thereby restricting all wife’s to use their husband’s name after their divorce & will not interfere, till date a man does not objects or obtains an restrictive order from the Court of Law concludes Adv. R. P. Rathod.

-      Adv. R. P. Rathod.