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Supreme Court terms irretrievable breakdown of marriage as cruelty, ground for dissolution of marriage

The Supreme Court has ruled that irretrievable breakdown of a marriage can be read as a ground of cruelty under Section 13 (1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act for the dissolution of marriage.

The order was passed recently by the Bench of Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice J.B. Pardiwala, while considering the appeal of a husband, who has been living separately from his wife for the past 25 years. 

As per the petition, the couple lived together as husband and wife for around four years and then went their separate ways. Both the husband and wife have filed numerous cases against each other. 

In 2009, the Family Court had allowed the husband’s petition for dissolution of marriage on the ground of cruelty. However, the decree of divorce was reversed by the High Court of Delhi in 2011.

Irretrievable breakdown of a marriage was not yet a ground for dissolution of marriage, though a recommendation to that effect was made by the Supreme Court in Naveen Kohli vs Neelu Kohli in 2006, said the top of the country. 

The Law Commission of India, in its 71st and 217th reports, recommended that a marriage, which has de facto broken down, needs to be de jure recognised as such by the law, it added.

However in the present case, the Bench noted that a marriage which had broken down irretrievably spelt cruelty to both the parties as in such a relationship, each party was treating the other with cruelty. Therefore, this could be a ground for the dissolution of marriage under Section 13 (1) (ia) of the Act.

A marital relationship which had only become more bitter and acrimonious over the years, did  nothing but inflict cruelty on both the sides. To keep the façade of this broken marriage alive would be doing injustice to both the parties. The continuation of this marriage would mean continuation of cruelty, which each was now inflicting on the other, it added. 

While noting the High Court’s observation that mere filing of cases against the spouse did not amount to cruelty, the Apex Court said given the facts of the case, it has to be seen that the marriage has broken down beyond repair. 

The long separation and absence of cohabitation and the complete breakdown of all meaningful bonds and the existing bitterness between the two, has to be read as cruelty under Section 13(1) (ia) of the 1955 Act, noted the Court, adding that the dissolution of this marriage would affect only the two parties as no child was born out of the wedlock. 

The Apex Court, while allowing the husband’s appeal, directed him to pay Rs 30 lakh as permanent alimony to the wife.

A Constitution Bench had reserved its judgment in case Shilpa Sailesh vs Varun Sreenivasan on the question whether the Supreme Court could dissolve a marriage invoking its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage

(Case title: Shri Rakesh Raman vs Smt Kavita)

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