What is the kind of mental cruelty that is required to be established to get divorce?

The change of law brought about by the Hindu Marriage Law’s (Amendment) Act, 1976 deserves notice. Prior to the said Amendment Act, cruelty was not a ground for claiming divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act. It was a ground only for claiming judicial separation under S. 10. By the said Amendment Act, cruelty was made a ground for divorce as well evidently in recognition of the changing mores of the Society.

The question arises what kind of cruel treatment does clause 13(ia) contemplate? In particular, what is the kind of mental cruelty that is required to be established’? While answering these questions, it must be kept in mind that the cruelty mentioned in clause (ia) is a ground now for divorce as well as for judicial separation u/S. 10. Another circumstance to be kept in mind is that even where the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the Act, even after the 1976 (Amendment) Act, does not permit dissolution of marriage on that ground. This circumstance may have to be kept in mind while ascertaining the type of cruelty contemplated by S. 13(ia).

Mental cruelty in S. 13(l)(ia) can broadly be defined as that conduct which inflicts upon the other party such mental pain and suffering as would make it not possible for that party to live with the other. In other words, mental cruelty must be of such a nature that the parties cannot reasonably be expected to live together. The situation must be such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with the other party. It is not necessary to prove that the mental cruelty is such as to cause injury to the health of the petitioner. While arriving at such conclusion, regard must be had to the social status, educational level of the parties, the society they move in, the possibility or otherwise of the parties ever living together in case they are already living apart and all other relevant facts and circumstances which it is neither possible nor desirable to set out exhaustively. What is cruelty in one case may not amount to cruelty in another case. It is a matter to be determined in each case having regard to the facts and circumstances of that case. If it is a case of accusations and allegations, regard must also be had to the context in which they were made.

At this stage, we may refer to a few decisions of this Court rendered u/S. 13(1) (i-a). In Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi, (1988) 1 SCC 105 , Justice K. Jagannatha Shetty, speaking for the Division Bench, held:

“Section 13(1 )(i-a) uses the words “treated the petitioner with cruelty”. The word “cruelty” has not been defined. Indeed it could not have been defined. It has been used in relation to human conduct or human behaviour. It is the conduct in relation to or in respect of matrimonial duties and obligations. It is a course of conduct of one which is adversely affecting the other. Cruelty may be mental or physical. intentional or unintentional. If it is physical the Court will have no problem to determine it It is a question of fact and degree. If it is mental, the problem presents a difficulty. First, the enquiry must begin as to the nature of the cruel treatment. Second the impact of such treatment on the mind of the spouse. Whether it caused a reasonable apprehension that it would be harmful or injurious to live with the other. Ultimately’, it is a matter of inference to be drawn by taking into account the nature of the conduct and its effect on the complaining spouse. There may. however, be cases where the conduct complained of itself is bad enough and per Se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or the injuries effect on the other spouse need not be enquired into or considered. In such cases, the cruelty will be established if the conduct itself is proved or admitted.

It will be necessary to bear in mind that there has been marked change in life around us. In matrimonial duties and responsibilities in particular. we find a sea change. They are of varying degrees from house to house or person to person. Therefore, when a spouse makes a complaint about the treatment of cruelty by the partner in life or relations, the Court should not search for standard in life. A set of facts stigmatised as cruelty in one case may not be so in another case. The cruelty alleged may largely depend upon the type of life the parties are accustomed to or their economic and social conditions. It may also depend upon their culture and human values to which they attach importance. We, the judges and lawyers, therefore, should not import our own notions of life. We may not go in parallel with them. There may be a generation gap between us and the parties. It would be better if we keep aside our customs and manners. It would be also better if we less depend upon precedents. Because as Lord Denning said in Sheldon v. Sheldon, (1966)2 All ER 257, 259 “the categories of cruelty are not closed”. Each case may be different. We deal with the conduct of human beings who are not generally similar. Among the human beings there is no limit to the kind of conduct which may constitute cruelty. A new type of cruelty may crop up, in any case, depending upon the human behaviour, capacity or incapability to tolerate the conduct complained of. Such is the wonderful (sic) realm of cruelty.”

Section 13 (l)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act provides that the party has after solemnisation of the marriage treated the petitioner with cruelty. What do these words mean? What should be the nature of cruelty? Should it be only intentional, willful or deliberate? Is it necessary to prove the intention in the matrimonial offence?

We think not. We have earlier said that cruelty may be of any kind and any variety. It may be different in different cases. It is in relation to the conduct of parties to a marriage. That conduct which is complained of as cruelty by one spouse may not be so for the other spouse There may be instances of cruelty by the unintentional but inexcusable conduct of any party. The cruel treatment may also result by the cultural conflict of the spouse. In such cases, even if the act of cruelty is established, the intention to commit suicide cruelty cannot be established. The aggrieved party may not get relief. We do not think that that was the intention with which the Parliament enacted Section 13( l)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act. The context and the set up in which the word cruelty has been used in the section seems to us. that intention is not a necessary element in cruelty. That word has to be understood in the ordinary sense of the term in matrimonial affairs. If the intention to harm. harass or hurt could he inferred by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained of cruelty could be easily established But the absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has been no deliberate or wilful ill-treatment.”

In Smt. Chanderkala Trivedi v. Dr. S. P. Trivedi. (1993 (3) SCALE 541) the husband sued for divorce on the ground of cruelty by wife. The wife filed a written statement wherein she attributed adultery to the husband. In reply thereto the husband put forward another allegation against the wife that she was having undesirable association with young boys. Considering the mutual allegations, R. M. Sahai, J., speaking for Division Bench, observed:

“Whether the allegation of the husband that she was in the habit of associating with young boys and the findings recorded by the three Courts are correct or not but what is certain is that once such allegations are made by the husband and wife as have been made in this case then it is obvious that the marriage of the two cannot in any circumstance be continued any further. The marriage appears to be practically dead as from cruelty alleged by the husband it has turned out to be at least intimacy of the husband with a lady doctor and unbecoming conduct of a Hindu wife.”

It was argued on behalf of the husband that the wife has failed to establish the charge of adultery levelled against him and that the charge of adultery must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Dealing with the argument, the learned Judge observed:

“But we do not propose to examine it as we are satisfied that the marriage is dead and the findings of fact cannot be set aside by this Court except that the appeal can be sent back to Division Bench to decide it again, which would mean another exercise in futility leading to tortuous litigation and continued agony of the parties.

We think it necessary to append a clarification. Merely because there are allegations and counter allegations, a decree of divorce cannot follow. Nor is mere delay in disposal of the divorce proceedings by itself a ground. There must be really some extraordinary features to warrant grant of divorce on the basis of pleadings (and other admitted material) without a full trial. Irretrievable break-down of the marriage is not a ground by itself. But while scrutinising the evidence on record to determine whether the ground(s) alleged is made out and in determining the relief to be granted, the said circumstance can certainly be borne in mind. The unusual step as the one taken by us herein can be resorted to only to clear up an insoluble mess, when the Court finds it in the interest of both the parties.

[ ReferSupreme Court in  V. Bhagat Versus Mrs. D. Bhagat AIR 1994 SC 710 : (1993) 3 Suppl. SCR 796 : (1994) 1 SCC 337 : JT 1993 (6) SC 428 : (1993) 4 SCALE 488 ]

Read also:

Impact of Physical and Mental Cruelty in Matrimonial Matters


  1. Law of divorce
  2. Breakdown of a marriage
  3. Cruelty by wife
  4. Grounds for divorce
  5. Hindu Marriage

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