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Definition of cruelty in divorce law in India

Following are the instances enumerated by the Supreme Court of India for defining ‘mental cruelty’ :

Recently, in Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, (2007) 4 SCC 511, this Court had held:No uniform standard can ever be laid down for guidance, yet we deem it appropriate to enumerate some instances of human behavior which may be relevant in dealing with the cases of `mental cruelty’. The instances indicated in the succeeding paragraphs are only illustrative and not exhaustive:

(i) On consideration of complete matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony and suffering as would not make possible for the parties to live with each other could come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty.

 (ii) On comprehensive appraisal of the entire matrimonial life of the parties, it becomes abundantly clear that situation is such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with other party.

(iii) Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty, frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference and neglect may reach such a degree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable.

(iv) Mental Cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of other for a long time may lead to mental cruelty.

(v) A sustained course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render miserable life of the spouse.

 (vi) Sustained unjustifiable conduct and behavior of one spouse actually affecting physical and mental health of the other spouse. The treatment complained of and the resultant danger or apprehension must be very grave, substantial and weighty.

(vii) Sustained reprehensible conduct, studied neglect, indifference or total departure from the normal standard of conjugal kindness causing injury to mental health or deriving sadistic pleasure can also amount to mental cruelty.

(viii) The conduct must be much more than jealousy, selfishness, possessiveness, which causes unhappiness and dissatisfaction and emotional upset may not be a ground for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.

(ix) Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life which happens in day to day life would not be adequate for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.

(x) The married life should be reviewed as a whole and a few isolated instances over a period of years will not amount to cruelty. The ill-conduct must be persistent for a fairly lengthy period, where the relationship has deteriorated to an extent that because of the acts and behavior of a spouse, the wronged party finds it extremely difficult to live with the other party any longer,  may amount to mental cruelty.

(xi) If a husband submits himself for an operation of sterilization without medical reasons and without the consent or knowledge of his wife and similarly if the wife undergoes vasectomy or abortion without medical reason or without the consent or knowledge of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty.

(xii) Unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for considerable period without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty.

(xiii) Unilateral decision of either husband or wife after marriage not to have child from the marriage may amount to cruelty.

(xiv) Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be concluded that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair. The marriage becomes a fiction though supported by a legal tie. By refusing to sever that tie, the law in such cases, does not serve the sanctity of marriage; on the contrary, it shows scant regard for the feelings and emotions of the parties. In such like situations, it may lead to mental cruelty.

In Vinita Saxena v. Pankaj pundit (2006) 3 SCC 778, the Supreme Court Court had ruled:

It is settled by a catena of decisions that mental cruelty can cause even more serious injury than the physical harm and create in the mind of the injured appellant such apprehension as is contemplated in the section. It is to be determined on whole facts of the case and the matrimonial relations between the spouses. To amount to cruelty, there must be such willful treatment of the party which caused suffering in body or mind either as an actual fact or by way of apprehension in such a manner as to render the continued living together of spouses harmful or injurious having regard to the circumstances of the case.

The word cruelty has not been defined and 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 and one which is adversely affecting the other. The cruelty may be mental or physical, intentional or unintentional. There may be cases where the conduct complained of itself is bad enough and per se unlawful or illegal. Then the impact or the injurious 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. Each case depends on its own facts and must be judged on these facts. The concept of cruelty has varied from time to time, from place to place and from individual to individual in its application according to social status of the persons involved and their economic conditions and other matters. The question whether the act  complained of was a cruel act is to be determined from the whole facts and the matrimonial relations between the parties. In this connection, the culture, temperament and status in life and many other things are the factors which have to be considered.

The legal concept of cruelty which is not defined by the statute is generally described as conduct of such character as to have caused danger to life, limb or health (bodily and mental) or to give rise to reasonable apprehension of such danger. The general rule in all questions of cruelty is that the whole matrimonial relations must be considered, that rule is of a special value when the cruelty consists not of violent act but of injurious reproaches, complaints, accusations or taunts. It may be mental such as indifference and frigidity towards the wife, denial of a company to her, hatred and abhorrence for wife, or physical, like acts of violence and abstinence from sexual intercourse without reasonable cause. It must be proved that one partner in the marriage however mindless of the consequences has behaved in a way which the other spouse could not in the circumstances be called upon to endure, and that misconduct has caused injury to health or a reasonable apprehension of such injury. There are two sides to be considered in case of apprehension of such injury. There are two sides to be considered in case of cruelty. From the appellants, ought this appellant to be called on to endure the conduct. From the respondent’s side, was this conduct excusable? The Court has then to decide whether the sum total of the reprehensible conduct was cruel. That depends on whether the cumulative conduct was sufficiently serious to say that from a reasonable person’s point of view after a consideration of any excuse which the respondent might have in the circumstances, the conduct is such that the petitioner ought not be called upon to endure.

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One thought on “Definition of cruelty in divorce law in India”

  1. I am a 48years man married to a woman 16years ago, since than she doesn’t seem to be suitable in forming a health family life, and we were seperated out of quarral twince with thin these 16 years, and each time we lived without any contact for 5 years, even now we are seperated and i filed a case to devorce her. while the devorce is still on, can I have a live-in relationship with a women whom to have my life as I am already approaching 49 years of age?.

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