|Citation||(2007) 4 SCC 511|
|Judges/Bench||B.N. Agrawal , P.P. Naolekar and Dalveer Bhandari|
|Court||Supreme Court of India|
|Date of the judgment||26.03.2007|
|Act Referred||The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955|
|Section||Section 13 of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955|
In India, Marriage is considered a sacred bond. Unfortunately, this sacred union is subject to various disagreements due to which the matrimonial disputes occur between husband and wife. When there is no alternative to revive the marital bond, the parties choose to dissolve the marriage. Sometimes, the case revolved in such direction that only one party wishes to dissolve the marriage on the ground of misconduct of another party. The present case is that unfortunate case of a matrimonial dispute where the petitioner instituted a suit for getting a decree of divorce on the ground of Mental Cruelty.
The case was filed by the petitioner who was husband before the District Court for the decree of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty. The district court, after analyzing the entire pleadings and evidence on record, concluded that the facts as to Defendant’s refusal to cohabit with the plaintiff, her unilateral decision not to have children after the marriage and act of humiliating the plaintiff led to mental cruelty. The learned District Judge held the present case is of mental cruelty, therefore, the decree was granted by the order dated 19.12.1996 and the marriage between the parties was dissolved. The respondent, aggrieved by the said judgment of the learned District Judge, preferred an appeal before the High Court. The Division Bench of the High Court vide judgment dated 20.5.2003 reversed the judgment of the Additional District Judge on the ground that the appellant has not been able to prove the allegation of mental cruelty and it is within the right of the respondent-wife to decide when she would like to have a child after marriage. Further, The Present Appeal was preferred by the Appellant who was aggrieved by the decision high court decision before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The Appeal was thus decided by the Supreme Court and the position of mental cruelty has also been determined by the court.
Facts of the case:
The appellant and the respondent were married on 13.12.1984 at Calcutta under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Both were senior ‘IAS’ officials. The respondent was a divorcee and had a female child from her first marriage and the custody of the said child was given to her. Soon after the Marriage, She had also unilaterally decided to not to give birth to a child for two years and did not allow the appellant to talk to her child. After one year of the marriage, the appellant suffered prolonged illness and the respondent left him alone and went to Bareilly where her brother was working. There was no one to look after him in Calcutta, their residential place. After 2 years appellant was transferred from the Calcutta, so respondent alone was living over there. But, due to the health conditions, the Appellant was again transferred to Calcutta. Then, they again started living together and the appellant tried to build good relations between them.
At their residential place in Calcutta, one servant cum cook was also lived with them, but when he left that place, the appellant had to take his meal from outside as the respondent used to come to the home and prepared food for her only. After that, there was one incidence took place where the respondent shouted at the appellant in front of his servant and according to that, the appellant felt insulted and humiliated. From then, they have been living separately.
1. Whether the respondent guilty of cruelty as alleged?
2. Whether the petitioner entitled to decree of divorce as claimed?
3. Whether High Court justified in reversing decree of trial court?
Contentions Of The Parties
Arguments on behalf of Appelant
- Though there was no physical cruelty, mental cruelty is a valid ground for Divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- Respondent’s refusal to cohabit with the appellant, her unilateral decision not to have children after the marriage, her act of humiliating the appellant and her act of not taking care of the appellant during his prolonged illness, amounts to Mental Cruelty.
- The appellant and the respondent have been living separately for more than sixteen and a half years (since 27.8.1990) and thereafter there has been no interaction whatsoever between them.
- That the Respondent has no feelings and emotions towards the Appellant as when he had undergone bye-pass surgery even then the respondent did not bother to enquire about his health.
- That there was no interference in the private affairs of the parties by the side of the family of the Appellant.
On behalf of the Respondent:
- That she had not even mentioned to the appellant that she did not want a child for two years and refused cohabitation.
- That the appellant started living with the respondent, therefore, that amounted to condonation of the acts of cruelty.
- That her refusal to cook food for the appellant, could not amount to mental cruelty as she had to go to the office.
- That the family of Appellant was interfering in the private affairs, which was the cause of annoyance of the respondent.
- That, no such incident took place where she ill-treated the servant and the Appellant.
Section 13 (1) (i)(a) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 –
This Section provides for the grounds of the divorce which include Cruelty as one of the grounds. The word ‘cruelty’ has not been defined in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. It has been used in Section 13(1) (i)(a) of the Act in the context of human conduct or behaviour concerning or in respect of matrimonial duties or obligations. It is a course of conduct of one which is adversely affecting the other. The cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional.
On proper analysis and scrutiny of the judgments, the Supreme court of India came to the definite conclusion that –
No uniform standard can ever be laid down for determining mental cruelty
“There can never be any straitjacket formula or fixed parameters for determining mental cruelty in a matrimonial matter. Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life happening in day to day life are not adequate for grant of divorce.”
However, The court has referred following instances as Mental Cruelty such as the unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for a considerable period without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty and the unilateral decision of either husband or wife after marriage not to have a child from the marriage may amount to cruelty.
Irretrievable breakdown of marriage
The court also observed that parties have admittedly lived separately for more than sixteen and half years, the irresistible conclusion would be that matrimonial bond has been ruptured beyond repair because of the mental cruelty caused by the respondent.
Further, the court has also added that the event where appellant was seriously ill and neither the respondent nor her father or any member of her family bothered to enquire about the health of the appellant even on the telephone. This instance is illustrative of the fact that now the parties have no emotions, sentiments or feelings for each other. This is a clear case of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In the considered view of the court, it is impossible to preserve or save the marriage.
The approach adopted by the High Court in deciding this matter is far from satisfactory
The High Court failed to take into consideration the most important aspect of the case that admittedly the appellant and the respondent have been living separately for more than sixteen and half years and the entire substratum of the marriage has already disappeared. The High Court seriously erred in reversing the judgment of the learned District Judge which is based on carefully watching the demeanour of the parties and their respective witnesses and the ratio and spirit of the judgments of this Court and other Courts.
The High Court erred in setting aside a well-reasoned judgment of the trial court based on the correct analysis of the concept of mental cruelty. In pursuance of that, the apex court set aside the high court Judgment and held that High Court erred in setting aside well-reasoned judgment of trial court based on correct analysis of concept of mental cruelty and the judgment of the learned District Judge granting the decree is restored.
Analysis and Conclusion:
In this case, the concept of mental cruelty has been deeply explained by the Apex court through various precedents. It has been widely accepted by the court that mental cruelty can’t be defined as it has to be determined in the context of facts and circumstances. Mental cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of others for a long time may lead to mental cruelty.[i]
In addition to that, the court added certain instances which might amount to mental cruelty such as unilateral decision of spouse to not to have children and the unilateral decision to deny to have intercourse for considerable period.
Further, the court has established that “Parties living separately for a sufficient length of time and filing of the petition for divorce carries the presumption that marriage has broken down. There is clear irretrievable breakdown of marriage as observed by the court though there is no statutory law for recognizing irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce in India. But Supreme Court can invoke its inherent powers under Article 142 to grant a divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.[ii] Therefore, The court has rightly observed that “It is the well-recognized proposition that neither inclusive nor exclusive definition of Mental cruelty can be given, and even the courts have not attempted to do so, but generally content themselves with determining whether the facts in the particular case in question constitute cruelty or not”.
[iv] Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, MANU/SC/1386/2007