What is Irretrievable breakdown of marriage?

In the case of Ashok Hurra vs. Rupa Bipin Zaveri etc., reported in (1997) 4 SCC 226, this Court while dealing with a matrimonial matter quoted few excerpts from the Seventy-first Report of the Law Commission of India on the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 – “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage” – dated 7.4.1978. We deem it appropriate to reproduce some excerpts from the said report as under:

“Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is now considered, in the laws of a number of countries, a good ground of dissolving the marriage by granting a decree of divorce.

Proof of such a breakdown would be that the husband and wife have separated and have been living apart for, say, a period of five or ten years and it has become impossible to resurrect the marriage or to reunite the parties. It is stated that once it is known that there are no prospects of the success of the marriage, to drag the legal tie acts as a cruelty to the spouse and gives rise to crime and even abuse of religion to obtain annulment of marriage.

The theoretical basis for introducing irretrievable breakdown as a ground of divorce is one with which, by now, lawyers and others have become familiar. Restricting the ground of divorce to a particular offence or matrimonial disability, it is urged, causes injustice in those cases where the situation is such that although none of the parties is at fault, or the fault is of such a nature that the parties to the marriage do not want to divulge it, yet there has arisen a situation in which the marriage cannot be worked. The marriage has all the external appearances of marriage, but none of the reality. As is often put pithily, the marriage is merely a shell out of which the substance is gone. In such circumstances, it is stated, there is hardly any utility in maintaining the marriage as a facade, when the emotional and other bounds which are of the essence of marriage have disappeared.

After the marriage has ceased to exist in substance and in reality, there is no reason for denying divorce. The parties alone can decide whether their mutual relationship provides the fulfilment which they seek. Divorce should be seen as a solution and an escape route out of a difficult situation. Such divorce is unconcerned with the wrongs of the past, but is concerned with bringing the parties and the children to terms with the new situation and developments by working out the most satisfactory basis upon which they may regulate their relationship in the changed circumstances.

Moreover, the essence of marriage is a sharing of common life, a sharing of all the happiness that life has to offer and all the misery that has to be faced in life, an experience of the joy that comes from enjoying, in common, things of the matter and of the spirit and from showering love and affection on one’s offspring. Living together is a symbol of such sharing in all its aspects. Living apart is a symbol indicating the negation of such sharing. It is indicative of a disruption of the essence of marriage – “breakdown”- and if it continues for a fairly long period, it would indicate destruction of the essence of marriage – “irretrievable breakdown”.