Cruelty as a Fault Ground for Divorce

Cruelty is a ground for matrimonial relief under all the matrimonial law statutes in India. The same has, however, not been defined and rightly so, for human nature and conduct are infinitely diverse—what is considered as cruelty today was not so construed a few decades back, and acts which may not constitute cruelty today might be so regarded after a few years.

As aptly remarked by the apex court in Ravi Kumar v Julmi Devi, 2010, cruelty has no definition; in fact, such definition is not possible. Cruelty in matrimonial cases can be of infinite variety. It defies any definition and its categories can never be closed. In other words, the concept of cruelty is very subjective—varying with time, place, and persons.

There is, however, a sea change in the attitude of the courts, and acts of physical violence by the husbands against their wives are highly disapproved

As remarked by the Delhi High Court in Ravinder Pratap Singh v Hema, 2015:

  • “The foundation of a sound marriage is laid on the pillars of tolerance, adjustment, and respect for each other. The tolerance to each other’s faults is acceptable only to a certain extent and at the same time when it goes out of the tolerable limits beyond the matrimonial alliance, marital discord takes place. In such circumstances, the germs of cruelty are born and when it crosses the limit, it infects the matrimonial alliance, and in such an environment, both the spouses find it difficult to live under one roof of the matrimonial home.”

As remarked by the Delhi High Court in Ravinder Pratap Singh v Hema, 2015:

  • “The foundation of a sound marriage is laid on the pillars of tolerance, adjustment, and respect for each other. The tolerance to each other’s faults is acceptable only to a certain extent and at the same time when it goes out of the tolerable limits beyond the matrimonial alliance, marital discord takes place. In such circumstances, the germs of cruelty are born and when it crosses the limit, it infects the matrimonial alliance, and in such an environment, both the spouses find it difficult to live under one roof of the matrimonial home.”
  • However, now the petitioner has simply to establish that the respondent has “treated the petitioner with cruelty”. There are no conditions as regards the nature or fear of injury or harm.
  • Even allegations made by the respondent in the written statements can be construed as mental cruelty on the petitioner so as to entitle him/her to a decree on this ground.
  • The position under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 is the same as under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Parsi Law

  • Under the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, prior to 1988, cruelty was only a ground for judicial separation, and cruelty was explained as such behavior “as to render it in the judgment of the court improper to compel him or her to live with the respondent”.
  • After the Amendment of 1988, cruelty has been incorporated as a ground for judicial separation as well as for divorce, provided that in every suit for divorce on this ground, it would be the court’s discretion whether to grant a divorce or judicial separation.

Christian law

  • Under the Indian Divorce Act, 1869, prior to its Amendment in 2001, a wife could seek divorce if the husband had been guilty of cruelty coupled with adultery.
  • The husband could not take the plea of the wife’s cruelty to obtain dissolution. The only ground available to him was adultery. Cruelty, however, was available as a ground for judicial separation to both the husband and the wife.
  • The Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act, 2001 has completely transformed the original Act and the grounds for matrimonial relief have been brought almost at par with the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
  • The statutory position now as regards cruelty is that a marriage may be dissolved if the respondent “has treated the petitioner with such cruelty as to cause a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner that it would be harmful or injurious for the petitioner to live with the respondent.
  • Cruelty continues to be a ground for judicial separation as well.

 

Muslim Law

  • Muslim wife has a statutory right under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, to obtain a divorce on certain grounds. Cruelty is mentioned as one of the grounds. The concept of cruelty is explained in the Act as follows viz, that the husband:
  • (i)habitually assaults her or makes her life miserable by cruelty of conduct even if such cruelty does not amount to physical ill-treatment; or
  • (ii) associates with women of evil-repute or leads an infamous life; or
  • (iii) attempts to force her to lead an immoral life; or
  • (iv) disposes of her property or prevents her exercising legal rights over it; or
  • (v) obstructs her in the observance of her religious profession or practice; or
  • (vi) if he has more wives than one and does not treat her equitably in accordance with the injunctions of the Quran.

 

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