Spouse's Conduct Even After The Initial Trigger For Divorce Can Be Construed As Mental Cruelty: Supreme Court
A two-judge Bench of Justice SK Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy has held that continuous filing of cases and accusations against the spouse to remove him from his job, post the initial trigger for seeking divorce, amounts to 'Cruelty' under section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
In this case, the Respondent wife left the company of the Appellant husband on the very first day of their marriage. As the Respondent refused to live with the Appellant, she was issued a notice by the husband seeking divorce on the ground of cruelty under section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act.
Whereas the Appellant sought a divorce, the Respondent sought restitution of conjugal rights. The Trial Court granted the decree of divorce to the husband on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. Within 6 days of the decree, the Appellant remarried. In the Appeal filed by the Respondent before the Additional District Judge, Pudukkottai, the decree for divorce was set aside and restitution of conjugal rights was ordered. The High Court of Madras, in appeal, restored the decree of divorce passed by the Trial Court on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage and cruelty.
The Respondent then filed a Review Petition before the High Court contending that it was not within the jurisdiction of the High Court or the Trial Court to grant a decree of divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The Review Petition was allowed by the High Court, which was further challenged by way of an appeal before the Supreme Court by the Appellant husband.
The Apex Court was of the view that irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not a ground of divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act. It noted that time and again the Law Commission through various reports has deliberated upon including it as a ground of divorce. Also, the Government, in this regard, had introduced Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 but the Bill was never passed. However, the Court, after considering previous Judgments on the subject, held that it has the power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India to grant a decree of divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage.
The Bench held, "The ground which is often taken to oppose such a decree of divorce, apart from the absence of legislative mandate, is that the very institution of marriage is distinctly understood in different countries. Under the Hindu Law, it is sacramental in character and is supposed to be an eternal union of 5 two people - society at large does not accept divorce, given the heightened importance of marriage as a social institution in India. Or at least, it is far more difficult for women to retain social acceptance after a decree of divorce. This, coupled with the law's failure to guarantee economic and financial security to women in the event of a breakdown of marriage; is stated to be the reason for the legislature's reluctance to introduce irretrievable breakdown as a ground for divorce – even though there may have been a change in social norms over a period of time. Not all persons come from the same social background, and having a uniform legislative enactment is thus, stated to be difficult. It is in these circumstances that this court has been exercising its jurisdiction, despite such reservations, under Article 142 of the Constitution of India."
The Court observed that that there have been numerous instances where the Respondent has subjected the Appellant to cruelty, after occurrence of the original ground for seeking divorce on the ground of cruelty :–
- She filed multiple cases against the Appellant;
- Approached the High Court to initiate disciplinary action against the appellant;
- Filed RTI seeking information about him from the college in which the Appellant was working;
- Made representations to college authorities seeking initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the Appellant;
- Filed a criminal complaint against the Appellant during the pendency of an Appeal before the High Court;
- Harassed the Appellant at the place of his work and threatened him with causing physical harm.
"These continuing acts of the respondent would amount to cruelty even if the same had not arisen as a cause prior to the institution of the petition, as was found by the Trial Court. This conduct shows disintegration of marital unity and thus disintegration of the marriage," the Court held.
The Court concluded by passing a decree of divorce, not only in exercise of power under Article 142 of Constitution of India on account of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, but also on account of cruelty under Section 13(1)(i-a) of the Act.