Matrimonial matters are embodiments of delicate human and emotional relationship. It is built with mutual regard, respect and trust of both spouses. Naturally, relations like these are bound to comply with social and cultural norms as well. This is where the matrimonial law comes into play in the form of acts, statutes and other regulators of social norms.
The breakdown of the said mutual regard, trust and respect evidently results in divorce. However, the aim of this study is not only to look into the legislation surrounding divorce but to specifically target cruelty and mental torture as the core reason resulting in divorce.
To understand cruelty as a reason causing breakdown of a marriage, it is necessary to understand the term “cruelty” in itself. This is important as every matrimonial misconduct that causes physical or mental annoyance might not amount to “cruelty” in legal terms. Minor or trivial disputes that cause irritation such as quarrels hence might not always amount to cruelty. Generally, only those acts which are capable of severe mental or physical trauma are considered “cruelty”.
What Amounts to “cruelty”
For an act to amount to “cruelty” it must be highly severe or grave nature, so much so that it is not possible for the aggrieved party to reasonably live with their spouse in a dignified manner. It is definitely difficult to lay down a specific or exact legal definition regarding terms like these, and hence in many matrimonial cases, it is often left up to the conscience of the court handling the matter to decide the severity of the perpetrator’s actions.
Existing Legal Provisions
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, 1 under Section – 13(1) has provided for divorce on the grounds of cruelty. The original text runs as follows –
“Any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has, after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioners with cruelty” 2
Hence, on the basis of this section, it can be concluded to an extent that this section lays down the legal foundation or basis for any individual who is being subject to cruelty, both physical or mental has the authority to approach a relevant court for remedy.
Similar Grounds for Divorce
Apart from cruelty itself, there are other similar grounds for which divorce might be filed for. These include adultery, desertion, conversion, conversion or unsoundness of mind. There are also certain grounds laid down specifically for women to file for divorce. This includes husband having more than one wife, marriage before fifteen years of age or marriage by force.
Extracts of Relevant Case Laws
Naveen Kohli vs Neelu Kohli (AIR 2004 All 1)
Facts – The petitioner, Naveen Kohli got married to Neelu Kohli on 20th November 1975. Three sons were born out of the wedding of the parties. As per the petitioner, the defendant was bad tempered and was often guilty of extremely rude behaviour with the petitioner and his family and relatives. With pieces of evidence also being available of alleged adultery and misappropriation of personal funds, the defendant moved out of the common home to live in separate rented quarters.
The course of Judgment – The initial Trial Court ruled in favour of the petitioner and even attempted to make arrangements to get the defendant arrested. The defendant, however, further appealed in the High Court where a judgement was passed in the light that the behaviour of the defendant might amount to misconduct but not “cruelty”, hence dismissing the suit.
The husband finally took the case to the Supreme Court, where the court interpreted Section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to suit the plight of the petitioner. The explanation lay in the fact that physical damage was not required to constitute “cruelty”, and the fact that the petitioner had already undergone severe mental agony, was adequate for the marriage to be dissolved.
Yudhishtir Singh vs Smt. Sarita (AIR 2002 Raj. 382)
Facts – The marriage between the two parties took place on 9th December 1990. One year into the marriage, the wife – Sarita, had filed a restitution of her matrimonial rights in a local court on the grounds of temporary desertion and misbehaviour regarding dowry money and assets. Even when the wife went back to her parent’s home, there was no concern shown by the husband. There was a rude behaviour when she attempted to go back to the in-law’s house.
The husband denied any allegations of behaviour and filed for divorce on the grounds of “cruelty” of the wife. Reasons listed for the divorce included misbehaviour, non-co-operation with family members, lack of intent to return from parent’s home and even the wife threatening the petitioner (the husband) with a divorce suit.
The course of Judgement – The court found the statement of the husband to be incomplete and unfounded in nature. The evidence of the so-called “cruelty” provided by the petitioner, such as non-co-operation or minor misbehaviour was not deemed to be severe enough to constitute cruelty. The court also found evidence of the husband’s misbehaviour regarding dowry demands and desertion of the wife, which resulted in the case filed by the husband being dismissed.
Historically, there have been very few laws that have addressed divorce on the grounds of cruelty or mental torture in India. The Hindu Marriages Act is the only exception that fills the void to some extent. The existing case laws delineate the fact that for “cruelty” to be established as a ground for divorce, the magnitude of the same is a crucial determinant to whether a case shall be successful or not. It also highlights the rights of all individuals to seek redressal if their marital lives are genuinely disrupted due to cruelty.
1. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 – Act No. 25 of 1955
2. Original Text of Section 13 (1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
3. Naveen Kohli vs Neelu Kohli – Case No: Civil Appeal 812 of 2004
4. Yudhishter Singh vs Smt. Sarita on 22 April 2002 – Bench: N Marthur and D Joshi