Judicial separation on the ground of Desertion

Under Section 10 (1) (a) a decree for judicial separation can be granted on the ground that the other party has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition. According to the Explanation the expression “desertion” with its grammatical variation and cognate expression means the desertion of the petitioner by the other party to the marriage without reasonable cause and without the consent or against the wish of such party and includes the willful neglect of the petitioner by the other party to the marriage.

 Our attention has been invited to the statement in Rayden on Divorce, 11th Edn. Page 223 with regard to the elements of desertion According to that statement for the offence of desertion there must be two elements present on the side of the deserting spouse namely , the factum, i.e. physical separation and the animus deserendi i.e. the intention to bring cohabitation permanently to an end. The two elements present on the side of the deserted spouse should be absence of consent and absence of conduct reasonably causing the deserting spouse to form his or her intention to bring cohabitation to an end. The requirement that the deserting spouse must intend to bring cohabitation to an end must be understood to be subject to the qualification that if without just cause or excuse a man persists in doing things which he knows his wife probably will not tolerate and which no ordinary woman would tolerate and then she leaves , he has deserted her whatever his desire or intention may have been. The doctrine of “constructive desertion” is discussed at page 229. It is stated that desertion is not to be tested by merely ascertaining which party left the matrimonial home first. If one spouse is forced by the conduct of the other to leave home, it may be that the spouse responsible for the driving out is guilty of desertion. There is no substantial difference between the case of a man who intends to cease cohabitation and leaves the wife and the case of a man who with the same intention compels his wife by his conduct to leave him.

In Lachman Utamchand Kriplani v. Meena (1964) 4 SCR 331 Supreme court had occasion to consider the true meaning and ambit of S. 10 (1) (a) of the Act read with the Explanation. Reference was made in the majority judgment to the earlier decision in Bipin Chander Jaisinghbhai Shah v. Prabhavati, (1956) SCR 838 in which all the English decisions as also the statement contained in authoritative text books were considered. After referring to the two essential conditions, namely, the factum of physical separation and the animus deserendi which meant the intention to bring the cohabitation permanently to an end as also the two elements so far as the deserted spouse was concerned i.e. (1) the absence of consent and (2) absence of conduct giving reasonable cause to the spouse leaving the matrimonial home to form the intention aforesaid, it was observed while examining how desertion might come to an end:

“In the first place, there must be conduct on the part of the deserted spouse which affords just and reasonable cause for the deserting spouse not to seek reconciliation and which absolves her from her continuing obligation to return to the matrimonial home. In this one has to have regard to the conduct of the deserted spouse. But there is one other matter which is also of equal importance, that is, that the conduct of the deserted spouse should have had such an impact on the mind of the deserting spouse that in fact it causes her to continue to live apart and thus continue the desertion. But where, however, on the facts it is clear that the conduct of the deserted spouse has had no such effect on the mind of the deserting spouse there is no rule of law that desertion terminates by reason of the conduct of the deserted spouse”. [Refer: AIR 1972 SC 459 : (1972) 2 SCR 657 : (1972) 1 SCC 1

The question as to what precisely constitutes “desertion” came up for consideration before this Court in an appeal for Bombay where the Court had to consider the provisions of S. 3(1) of the Bombay Hindu Divorce Act, 1947 whose language is in pari materia with that of S. 10(1) of the Act. In the judgment of this Court in Bipin Chandra v. Prabhavati, (1956) SCR 838; there is an elaborate consideration of the several English decisions in which the question of the ingredients of desertion were considered and the following summary of the law in Halsbury’s Laws of England (3rd Edn.) Vol. 12 was cited with approval:

“In its essence desertion means the intentional permanent forsaking and abandonment of one spouse by the order without that other’s consent, and without reasonable cause. It is a total repudiation of the obligations of marriage. In view of the large variety of circumstances and of modes of life involved, the Court has discouraged attempts at defining desertion, there being no general principle applicable to all cases.”

The position was thus further explained by this Court.

“If a spouse abandons the other spouse in a state of temporary passion, for example, anger or disgust, without intending permanently the cease cohabitation, it will not amount to desertion. For the offence of desertion so far as the deserting spouse is concerned, two essential conditions must be there, (1) the factum of separation, and (2) the intention of bring cohabitation permanently to an end (animus deserndi). Similarly two elements are essential so far as the deserted spouse is concerned:(1) the absence of consent, and (2) absence of conduct giving reasonable cause to the spouse leaving the matrimonial home to form the necessary intention aforesaid . . . . . . . Desertion is a matter of inference to be drawn from the facts and circumstances of each case. The inference may be drawn from certain facts which may not in another case be capable of leading to the same inference; that is to say, the facts have to be viewed as to the purpose which is revealed by those acts or by conduct and expression of in tention, both anteriror and subsequent to the actual acts of separation. If, in fact, there has been a separation, the essential question always is whether that act could be attributable to an animus deserendi. The offence of desertion commences when the fact of separation and the animus deserendi co-exist. But it is not necessary that they should commence at the same time. The de facto separation may have commenced without the necessary animus or it may be that the separation and the animus deserendi coincide in point of time.”

Two more matters which have a bearing on the points in dispute in this appeal might also be mentioned. The first relates to the burden of proof in these cases, and this is a point to which we have already made a passing reference. It is settled Law that the burden of proving desertion – the “factum” as well as the “animus deserendi” – is on the petitioner; and he or she has to establish beyond reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of the Court, the desertion throughout the entire period of two years before the petition as well as that such desertion was without just cause. In other words, even if the wife, where she is the deserting spouse, does not prove just cause for her living apart, the petitioner-husband has still to satisfy the Court that the desertion was without just cause. As Dunning, L. . observed:(Dunn v. Dunn (1948) 2 All ER 822 at page No. 823):

“The burden he (Counsel for the husband) said was on her to prove just cause (for living apart). The argument contains a fallacy which has been put forward from time to time in many branches of the law. The fallacy lies in a failure to distinguish between a legal burden of proof laid down by law and a provisional, burden raised by the state of the evidence . . . . . . . . . . . The legal burden throughout this case is on the husband, as petitioner, to prove that this wife deserted him without cause. To discharge that burden, he relies on the fact that he asked her to join him and she refused. That is a fact from which the court may infer that she deserted him without cause, but it is not bound to do so. Once he proves the fact of refusal, she may seek to rebut the inference of desertion by proving that she had just cause for her refusal; and, indeed, it is usually wise for her to do so, but there is no legal burden on her to do so. Even if she does not affirmatively prove just cause, the Court has still, at the end of the case, to ask itself:Is the legal burden discharged? Has the husband proved that she deserted him without cause? Take this case. The wife was very deaf, and for that reason could not explain to the Court her reasons for refusal. The judge thereupon considered reasons for her refusal which appeared from the facts in evidence, though she had not herself stated that they operated on her mind. Counsel for the husband says that the judge ought not to have done that. If there were a legal burden on the wife he would be right, but there was none. The legal burden was on the husband to prove desertion without cause, and the judge was right to ask himself at the end of the case:Has that burden been discharged?”

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