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Wife demanding separate home, visiting parents' house not “cruelty” for grant of divorce

Wife demanding separate home, visiting parents' house not “cruelty” for grant of divorce

S Shyamala Vs B N Mallikarjunaiah

Karnataka HC



About/from the judgment:

The High Court set aside a decree of divorce granted by a family court to a husband who claimed that his wife's actions of demanding a separate house and staying with her parents and sister amounted to cruelty.

The Court held:

"Merely for the reason that the wife was demanding a separate house and that she was in the habit of leaving the matrimonial house and going to her sister’s and parents’ house, the same cannot be termed as “cruelty” for the purpose of seeking a decree of divorce."

It also noted that a decree of divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage can only be granted by the Supreme Court in exercise of its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, and not by any other courts.

The High Court was hearing an appeal against the family court order which allowed the dissolution of the marriage after the husband contended that the appellant-wife was demanding to set up a separate house immediately after the marriage.

As he lived with his widowed mother and a younger brother, he rejected her demand. Further, he said that his wife had a habit of quarreling with his family members for no reason and would leave the matrimonial house and go to her sister's or mother's house without informing him or his family.

Further, the wife lodged a criminal complaint against him and his relatives for offences punishable under Sections 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) 506 (criminal intimidation) read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 (giving or taking dowry) and 4 (demanding dowry) of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

The appellant wife denied the allegations and submitted that her husband used to ill-treat her and assault her for having not brought sufficient dowry. She also contended that in 2007, her husband demanded ₹2 lakh from her, and when she pleaded her inability to give the same, her husband and his relatives forcibly threw her out of the matrimonial house, and she was forced to live in her parents' house.

Although she and her parents requested that she be taken back, and several panchayats were convened by her parents, their efforts were in vain. It was only, thereafter, that she lodged a police complaint against her husband and his relatives, she submitted.

While considering the case, the Court noted that the husband and his relatives were acquitted of the criminal case filed against them on the ground that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

Therefore, it cannot be said that the wife had lodged a false complaint against the husband and his family, the Bench noted.

Further, merely filing a criminal case itself cannot be termed as "cruelty", the Court observed. Explaining the term "cruelty", the Court held,

"For the purpose of Section 13(1)(ia) of the Act, “cruelty” could be wilful and unjustifiable conduct of such character as to cause danger to life, limb or health, bodily or mental, or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such a danger. The question of mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the particular society, to which the parties belong, their social values, status, environment in which they live. Cruelty need not be physical. If from the conduct of the spouse it is established or an inference can be legitimately drawn that the treatment of the spouse is such that it causes apprehension in the mind of the other spouse, about his or her mental welfare then this conduct amounts to cruelty."

The Court also noted that the wife had a valid reason to leave the company of her husband, considering the nature of the allegations made by her in the complaint. During the trial against him, the husband had argued that even after filing the criminal complaint, his wife had been sending him messaged conveying her willingness to join him. Thus, it cannot be said that the wife had deserted the husband and wanted to put an end to the marital relation and cohabitation, the Court held.

The allegation with regard to the wife's demand to set up a separate house has not been proved by the husband, nor has he disclosed the reason as to why the wife is seeking a separate residence, the Court noted. Further, the mere fact that the parties have been litigating and have been residing separately for quite some time would not itself be a ground for dissolution of marriage, as held by the apex court.

In the present case, the husband and wife have a daughter who is about 19 years old, and the outcome of this litigation will definitely have a bearing on her future life, which may have an effect on her marriage prospects, the Court further observed.

On these grounds, the appeal by the wife was allowed and the divorce decree of the family court was set aside.

Read the Judgment


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