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This judgment from a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justice Dalveer Bhandari has enumerated some of the illustrations of mental cruelty citing Judgments of England, America, Canada and Australia.
The appellant and the respondent are senior officials of the Indian Administrative Service, The respondent was a divorcee and had a female child from her first marriage. The custody of the said child was given to her by the District Court of Patna where the respondent had obtained a decree of divorce against her first husband, Debashish Gupta, who was also an I.A.S. officer. The respondent’s first husband, Debashish Gupta filed a belated appeal against the decree of divorce obtained by her from the District Court of Patna. Therefore, during the pendency of the appeal, she literally persuaded the appellant to agree to the marriage immediately so that the appeal of Debashish Gupta may become infructuous.
The marriage between the parties was solemnized on 13.12.1984.
… In these circumstances, the appellant has prayed that it would not be possible to continue the marriage with the respondent and he eventually filed a suit for the grant of divorce. In the suit for divorce filed by the appellant in Alipur, Calcutta, the respondent filed her written statement and denied the averments. The learned Additional District Judge came to the finding that the appellant has succeeded in proving the case of mental cruelty against the respondent, therefore, the decree was granted by the order dated 19.12.1996 and the marriage between the parties was dissolved.
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.
Such a vital decision cannot be taken unilaterally after marriage by the respondent and if taken unilaterally, it may amount to mental cruelty to the appellant.
The finding of the High Court that the appellant started living with the respondent amounted to condonation of the act of cruelty is unsustainable in law.
The finding of the High Court that the respondent’s refusal to cook food for the appellant could not amount to mental cruelty as she had to go to office, is not sustainable….. The question was not of cooking food, but wife’s cooking food only for herself and not for the husband would be a clear instance of causing annoyance which may lead to mental cruelty.
The High Court’s finding that the husband and wife might be sleeping in separate rooms did not lead to a conclusion that they did not cohabit and to justify this by saying that the respondent was highly educated and holding a high post was entirely unsustainable. Once the respondent accepted to become the wife of the appellant, she had to respect the marital bond and discharge obligations of marital life.
During illness, particularly in a nuclear family, the husband normally looks after and supports his wife and similarly, he would expect the same from her. The respondent’s total indifference and neglect of the appellant during his illness would certainly lead to great annoyance leading to mental cruelty.
The credibility of the witness does not depend upon his financial standing or social status only. A witness which is natural and truthful should be accepted irrespective of his/her financial standing or social status.
… the appellant and the respondent have been living separately for more than sixteen and half years (since 27.8.1990). The entire substratum of the marriage has already disappeared. During this long period, the parties did not spend a single minute together. The appellant had undergone bye-pass surgery even then the respondent did not bother to enquire about his health even on telephone. Now the parties have no feelings and emotions towards each other.
Mental Cruelty Guidelines
No uniform standard can ever be laid down for guidance, yet we deem it appropriate to enumerate some instances of human behaviour which may be relevant in dealing with the cases of ‘mental cruelty’. The instances indicated in the succeeding paragraphs are only illustrative and not exhaustive.
(i) On consideration of complete matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony and suffering as would not make possible for the parties to live with each other could come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty.
(ii) On comprehensive appraisal of the entire matrimonial life of the parties, it becomes abundantly clear that situation is such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with other party.
(iii) Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty, frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference and neglect may reach such a degree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable.
(iv) Mental cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of other for a long time may lead to mental cruelty.
(v) A sustained course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render miserable life of the spouse.
(vi) Sustained unjustifiable conduct and behaviour of one spouse actually affecting physical and mental health of the other spouse. The treatment complained of and the resultant danger or apprehension must be very grave, substantial and weighty.
(vii) Sustained reprehensible conduct, studied neglect, indifference or total departure from the normal standard of conjugal kindness causing injury to mental health or deriving sadistic pleasure can also amount to mental cruelty.
(viii) The conduct must be much more than jealousy, selfishness, possessiveness, which causes unhappiness and dissatisfaction and emotional upset may not be a ground for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.
(ix) Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life which happens in day to day life would not be adequate for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.
(x) The married life should be reviewed as a whole and a few isolated instances over a period of years will not amount to cruelty. The ill-conduct must be persistent for a fairly lengthy period, where the relationship has deteriorated to an extent that because of the acts and behaviour of a spouse, the wronged party finds it extremely difficult to live with the other party any longer, may amount to mental cruelty.
(xi) If a husband submits himself for an operation of sterilization without medical reasons and without the consent or knowledge of his wife and similarly if the wife undergoes vasectomy or abortion without medical reason or without the consent or knowledge of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty.
(xii) Unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for considerable period without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty.
(xiii) Unilateral decision of either husband or wife after marriage not to have child from the marriage may amount to cruelty.
(xiv) Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be concluded that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair. The marriage becomes a fiction though supported by a legal tie. By refusing to sever that tie, the law in such cases, does not serve the sanctity of marriage; on the contrary, it shows scant regard for the feelings and emotions of the parties. In such like situations, it may lead to mental cruelty.
Read the other judgments referenced in this judgment here.