SUPREME COURT REITERATES THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH A MARRIAGE CAN BE DISSOLVED ON THE GROUNDS OF IRRETRIEVABLE BREAKDOWN AND CRUELTY
A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court presided by Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice J. B. Pardiwala passed a Judgment dated 26.04.2023 in Shri Rakesh Raman Versus Smt. Kavita, Civil Appeal No. 2012 of 2013 and made observations regarding the circumstances in which a marriage can be dissolved on the grounds of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ and ‘cruelty’ under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (‘Act’).
The Appellant–Husband, Shri Rakesh Raman and the Respondent-Wife, Smt. Kavita were married as per the Hindu rituals and customs in Delhi, on 16.04.1994. Due to a marital discord, the Respondent initially left her matrimonial home in September 1994, but later started living together with her Husband again since March 1995 onwards. But eventually on 16.02.1998, she left her matrimonial house, and lodged a Complaint against the Appellant with the Police on 16/17.02.1998.
Subsequently in March 1998, the Respondent-Wife agreed to live with her Husband, on the condition that the Appellant-Husband would take another accommodation and consequently in April, 1998 another house was taken on rent, and both of them started living together in the new house.
On 24.08.1998, the Appellant alleged that he was beaten by his wife and her brother. However on 17.12.1998, the Respondent again left her matrimonial house and thereafter, an FIR was lodged against the Appellant and his brother, under Section 498A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC), at the Anand Parbat Police Station, New Delhi. The Appellant and his brother were arrested on the same day. The Respondent-Wife then filed another Complaint under Section 323 of IPC (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) against the Appellant-Husband and his family members, however, they were subsequently discharged from the case. She then filed a Petition for maintenance, under Section 18 of Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956.
The Appellant-Husband felt aggrieved and burdened by the multiple litigations filed by his Wife who deserted him, hence, the Appellant moved the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage under Section 13(1) (ia) and (ib) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (Divorce), before the Ld. Additional District Judge, North Delhi (Trial Court) on 20.09.2002. The Trial Court gave the findings on cruelty as well as desertion in favour of the Husband and a Decree for the Dissolution of Marriage was passed on 02.05.2009.
The Respondent-Wife, then, filed a Matrimonial Appeal bearing MAT.APP-52 of 2009 before the Delhi High Court, which passed a Judgment dated 08.04.2011 and set aside the Order of the Trial Court dated 02.05.2009, thereby holding that desertion as the ground of dissolution of Marriage was not made out and therefore, dismissed the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage filed by the Husband. Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 08.04.2011, the Appellant- Husband filed Civil Appeal No. 2012 of 2013 before the Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court Observations:
The Apex Court passed a Judgment dated 26.04.2023 and observed as follows:
1) That in cases of dissolution of marriages, the Courts have to take into account various factors inter alia: (i) whether the “couple” has been living separately in the last 25 years, and whether in all those years, any cohabitation took place between them. (ii) whether there is any child out of the wedlock. (iii) whether any repeated efforts have been made by the Courts for reconciliation or settlement that have failed.
2) In the present case, the Appellant and Respondent have lived together as husband and wife for barely 4 years and in the last 25 years, they have been living separately, and have not cohabitated and there is no bond between them.
3) Further, there is absolutely no scope of reconciliation between the Parties and such a marriage is said to be a marriage which has de facto broken down, and only needs a de jure recognition by the law.
4) That the Bench placed reliance on the case of Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, (2006) 4 SCC 558 , where a strong recommendation has been made by the Supreme Court to the Union of India to consider adding ‘irretrievable breakdown of a marriage’ as a ground for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act.
5) Further, the Bench observed that matrimonial cases before the Courts pose a different challenge, quite unlike any other, as we are dealing with human relationships with its bundle of emotions, with all its faults and frailties. It is not possible in every case to pin point to an act of “cruelty” or blameworthy conduct of the spouse. The nature of relationship, the general behaviour of the parties towards each other, or long separation between the two are relevant factors which a Court must take into consideration.
6) Moreover, mere filing of criminal cases by a wife would not constitute ‘cruelty’ under the Hindu Marriage Act.
7) The Bench made the following observations regarding ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’:
Irretrievable breakdown of a marriage may not be a ground for dissolution of marriage, under the Hindu Marriage Act, but cruelty is. A marriage can be dissolved by a decree of divorce, inter alia, on the ground when the other party “has, after the solemnization of the marriage treated the petitioner with cruelty”. In our considered opinion, a marital relationship which has only become more bitter and acrimonious over the years, does nothing but inflicts cruelty on both the sides.
8) That taking into consideration the facts of the case, the Apex Court held that the Marriage between the Parties has irretrievably broken down, owing to the long separation, absence of cohabitation, multiple litigations against each other and complete breakdown of all meaningful bonds between the Parties and the same has to be read as ‘cruelty’ under Section 13(1) (ia) of the Act, which is a ground for dissolution of Marriage under the said provision.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Hon’ble Supreme Court allowed the Appeal filed by the Appellant- Husband and granted a Decree of Divorce, and thereby, the Marriage stood dissolved. The Appellant–Husband has been further directed to deposit Rs. 30,00,000/ (Rupees Thirty Lakhs only) with the Respondent-Wife as permanent alimony.
As a result, the Apex Court upheld the Trial Court’s Order dated 02.05.2009 and thereby, set aside the Order dated 08.04.2011 passed by the High Court.
The Indian Lawyer