If, without the consent of her husband, a woman decides not to have children from her marriage or if she refuses to have sex with him for a considerable period, it would amount to mental cruelty on the husband, who could seek divorce citing this ground, according to the Supreme Court.
The same applied if the wife was similarly aggrieved, the court said on Wednesday, adding that a long period of continuous separation was also tantamount to mental cruelty.
“If a husband submits himself for an operation of sterilisation without medical reasons, and without the consent of his wife, and similarly if the wife undergoes tubectomy or abortion without medical reason or without the consent of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty,” the court said.
After analysing a series of judgments on mental cruelty, a bench headed by Justice BN Agrawal, however, added: “There can never be any strait-jacket formula or fixed parameters for determining mental cruelty in matrimonial matters…. The prudent way to adjudicate the case would be to evaluate it on its peculiar facts and circumstances…”
The bench clarified that “mere trivial irritations, quarrels, normal wear and tear of the married life which happens in day-to-day life would not be adequate for grant of divorce on the ground of cruelty”.
The court restored the decree of divorce granted to an IAS officer from West Bengal by a trial court on the ground that his wife, also an IAS officer, refused to cohabit with him and unilaterally decided not to have a child from the marriage. Holding that it amounted to “mental cruelty”, the bench set aside the Calcutta High Court’s order that had reversed the trial court’s verdict.
The couple, who married in 1984 under Special Marriage Act 1954, had been living separately for the past 16 years.