Irretrievably broken down marriage can be dissolved on ground of cruelty: Supreme Court

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In a significant verdict, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that an irretrievably broken down marriage spells cruelty in itself, and can be a ground for dissolution of marriage under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 [Shri Rakesh Raman v. Smt Kavita].

A Division Bench of Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and JB Pardiwala was of the view that even though irretrievable breakdown of marriage may not be a ground for dissolution of marriage under the Act, the same can be read as a ground of ‘cruelty’.

“A marriage which has broken down irretrievably, in our opinion spells cruelty to both the parties, as in such a relationship each party is treating the other with cruelty. It is therefore a ground for dissolution of marriage under Section 13 (1) (ia) of the Act,” the judgment stated.

The Court was hearing an appeal against a 2011 decision of the Delhi High Court which had reversed the decree of divorce granted by the family court in favor of the appellant-husband.

The parties got married in 1994, and had barely lived together for four years. They grew apart and have been living separately for 25 years, over the course of which there were multiple court battles.

While reversing the divorce decree, the High Court had observed that mere filing of cases against a spouse will not amount to cruelty. Aggrieved by the same, the husband moved the apex court.

The Court noted that every attempt of the parties to reach a settlement or compromise through mediation has failed. Considering the multiple cases between the parties in these 25 years, the Court remarked that this is an embittered relationship between the parties which has not witnessed any moment of peace, and therefore, is a marital relationship only on paper.

“The multiple Court battles between them and the repeated failures in mediation and conciliation is at least testimony of this fact that no bond now survive between the couple, it is indeed a marriage which has broken down irretrievably,” the judgment stated.

The Bench further noted that even after a strong recommendation from the apex court in 2006 in the case of Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not yet a ground for dissolution of marriage. It further took note of the fact that the Law Commission in its 71st report had stated that such marriages are de facto broken down, and only require a de jure recognition by law.

The Court ultimately held,

“We therefore hold that in a given case, such as the one at hand, where the marital relationship has broken down irretrievably, where there is a long separation and absence of cohabitation (as in the present case for the last 25 years), with multiple Court cases between the parties; then continuation of such a ‘marriage’ would only mean giving sanction to cruelty which each is inflicting on the other. We are also conscious of the fact that a dissolution of this marriage would affect only the two parties as there is no child out of the wedlock.”

Therefore, the Court was of the view that the long separation, absence of cohabitation, complete breakdown of all meaningful bonds and the existing bitterness between the parties has to be read as cruelty under Section 13(1) (ia) of the 1955 Act.

While dissolving the marriage of the parties, the Court directed the husband to pay ₹30 lakh as permanent alimony to his estranged wife.

Senior Advocate SK Rungta represented the appellant-husband. Advocate SK Bhalla appeared for the wife.

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