Published on: 09 September 2023 at 11:30 IST
The Supreme Court of India emphasized the need for a more expansive and contextual approach when interpreting the term ‘cruelty’ under of the Hindu Marriage Act.
The Court made this pronouncement while granting a divorce petition filed by a wife and recognized that the concept of cruelty can vary from person to person, necessitating consideration of the surrounding circumstances.
The Supreme Court’s division bench, comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice M M Sundresh, acknowledged that while cruelty itself is an objective concept, its interpretation should factor in subjectivity.
The Court emphasized that what may constitute cruelty for one individual may not be viewed as such by another. Consequently, a more elastic and broad approach is warranted, particularly when a wife seeks divorce.
The Court referred to the 1976 Amending Act of the Hindu Marriage Act, which introduced clauses (ia) and (ib) to Section 13 and Section 13A, thereby expanding the grounds for divorce.
It noted that the Statement of Objects and Reasons behind the Amendment Act highlighted the legislature’s intent to liberalize divorce provisions. In this context, the Supreme Court observed that:
“Historically, the law of divorce was predominantly built on a conservative canvas based on the fault theory. Preservation of marital sanctity from a societal perspective was considered a prevailing factor. With the adoption of a libertarian attitude, the grounds for separation or dissolution of marriage have been construed with latitudinarianism.”
Regarding the burden of proof in divorce cases, the Court clarified that it lies with the petitioner. However, it stressed that the burden is not as demanding as proof beyond a reasonable doubt but rather a preponderance of evidence.
Furthermore, the Court highlighted the potential harm inflicted on children when incompatible partners are compelled to stay together in a contentious relationship.
It pointed out that children often become direct victims of their parents’ conflicts, even when they bear no responsibility for the marriage’s breakdown.
The Court emphasized the psychological and mental impact such situations have on children.
In the specific case under consideration, the Supreme Court recognized that the estranged couple had lived apart for fifteen years, rendering their marriage unviable and effectively concluded, pending only a formal divorce decree.
Consequently, the Court granted the divorce decree, overturning the decisions of the Trial Court and the High Court.
In its verdict, the Supreme Court criticized the hyper-technical and pedantic approach adopted by the lower courts in denying the divorce decree.
It noted that there was no willingness from either party to continue the marriage, and both had moved on with their respective lives.
The Court deemed it unnecessary to prolong their status as a married couple, considering the absence of cohabitation and the pain caused by the mere maintenance of this formal relationship.
Advocate Dushyant Parashar represented the appellant in this case.