Is mental cruelty a thing for divorce, how court sees it?

The High Court judgement in a recent case granted divorce on account of mental cruelty

The High Court of Mumbai, while granting a divorce last week said that a wife writing to the employer of her husband with unfounded allegations about him constituted actionable cruelty under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The judgement passed on May 5 by a division bench Justices SM Modak and VM Deshpande observed that the cruelty is mental and physical both. If the allegations are made in writing and they are baseless then it might cause mental pain to the other side.

What is the ground for divorce under Hindu Law?

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, lays down the law for divorce that applies to Sikhs, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The grounds for divorce under section 13 include – cruelty, voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than her or his spouse, ceas(ing) to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion, desertion for a continuous period of not less than two years preceding the presentation of the petition and being incurably of unsound mind. Section 13B provides for divorce by mutual consent.

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Mental Cruelty as a ground for divorce

The Hindu Marriage Act did not have ‘cruelty’ as a ground for divorce when it was first passed. An amendment was done in 1976 and cruelty became the basis for those who seek divorce or judicial separation.

Although Parliament inserted the term ‘cruelty’ it didn’t define it. As a result, it has been understood according to its interpretation by the judiciary since the amendment. During these times, the courts have evolved grounds to provide reliefs in cases of both mental and physical cruelty.

Even before the amendment of 1976, the Supreme Court had examined the concept of legal cruelty in the 1975 case of Dastane v Dastane. The top court held in this case that the wife threatening she would end her life and verbally abusing the husband and his father were among other acts that amounted to mental cruelty. Hence, the divorce was granted to the husband.

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Since then, the courts have held a number of acts as mental health. In the 1988 Shobha Rani v Madhukar Reddi case, the top court held that repeated demand of dowry by the husband and his relatives was a form of cruelty. The courts have given similar relief in other cases, including repeatedly making unfounded allegations and persistent drunkenness.

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