Refusal To Get Treatment Ground For Divorce? Supreme Court To Examine

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Can the refusal of a spouse to acknowledge ailment and refusal to undergo treatment be termed as cruelty and can it become a ground for divorce, the Supreme Court on Friday has agreed to examine.

A bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose issued notice and stayed an order of Kerala High Court dated September 3, 2021, granting a divorce to a couple while holding that “The disruptive behavioural disorder becomes ‘cruelty’ to canvass as a ground for divorce, not for the reason that it is attributed to the ailment one suffers, but for the reason, one refuses to acknowledge ailment and was unwilling to treat the ailment”.

The bench said, “Issue notice, returnable in six weeks. Meanwhile, there shall be a stay of the impugned order”.

The Kerala High Court has passed the order on the plea of the wife challenging the family court order granting divorce on the ground of cruelty under the Divorce Act of 1869.

The husband has alleged that his wife suffers from ‘Paranoid Schizophrenia’ but she refuses to acknowledge it and refuses to undergo treatment and come out of such illness, a claim which has been contested by the wife saying she is perfectly fine and she takes care of two children and has very good relations with her neighbhours.

Advocate Vipin Nair, appearing for the wife, who has challenged the order of the High Court said that it is a settled position of law that ailment of a spouse cannot be a reason to grant a decree of divorce, even if it results in unusual behaviour which is not expected in normal marital life.

He said that the very fact that a person, who is imputed with a mental disorder such as “Paranoid Schizophrenia”, as is sought to be unfairly done in the case of the wife, who categorically denies suffering from any such mental disorder, is itself an act of cruelty and mental harassment meted by the husband.

The plea said, “The High Court, in the impugned judgement, with respect, completely disregards the ratio and despite noticing the fact that the Petitioner (wife) is admittedly not suffering from any mental disorder, grants a decree of divorce on the ground that the Petitioner had refused to acknowledge her alleged mental illness and to get treated for the same. The impugned judgement, under these circumstances, is perverse, arbitrary and unjustified”.

The plea said that the wife, who is a qualified nurse, her educational background, as well as the work experience, would explain that she never suffered from any sort of mental disorder or even displayed any such symptom and the same is merely an allegation imputed by her husband to her.

“She has continuously achieved high standards in both her educational and professional career”, the plea said, adding that the same division bench had by its order dated September 3, 2021, in another matter between the same parties relating to the custody of children, has granted the wife permanent custody of children.

“All pleas of the husband regarding the mental condition of the Petitioner were rejected. Yet in the present case, the same bench grants divorce on the ground that the petitioner was mentally unsound”, it said.

The wife claimed that she unequivocally reiterates that she has never at any point of time, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia or any other mental disease and that the impugned judgement is legally untenable and liable to be set aside. The husband and wife were married as per Christian rites and ceremonies on September 1, 2001, at St. Mary’s Church, Kuravilangad, and after their marriage; they resided together at the husband’s house for two weeks and after that at Visakhapatnam where the husband is working. Subsequently, two daughters were born out of the said wedlock respectively in 2002 and in 2009, who is in the custody of the wife.

She claimed in her plea that her husband and her in-laws, from the very beginning of her married life, used to harass her verbally and used to allege that she is a mad person and she was mentally retarded even before her marriage.

“It is also important to note that the Respondent (husband) and his friends even forcefully admitted the Petitioner to the Government Mental Hospital in 2009 whereby she was given heavy doses of medicine and falsely diagnosed that she was suffering from “Paranoid Schizophrenia”, which is a severe mental condition”, the plea said.

She claimed that she had also been looking after her household work, her kids, and their studies and even maintaining a good relationship with her neighbours.

“It is pertinent to note that there were no allegations or any behavioural bad reports during her academic life and her professional practice. The same is proven by her academic history, behavioral history, and home management skills. The Petitioner had no history of mental illness before or after marriage…Furthermore, the Petitioner is singlehandedly bringing up her children for the past 12 years”, she said.

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