With the number of matrimonial disputes rising steadily, particularly in the cities, the Supreme Court has favoured a liberal and pragmatic approach in deciding divorce cases filed on the ground of cruelty.
Clarifying the meaning and scope of "cruelty" under the Hindu Marriage Act, the court said a liberal approach has to be adopted in dealing with various provisions under Section 13(1) of the Act and full meaning should be given to the words used by the Legislature.
Section 13(1) provides for various grounds, including cruelty, for divorce.
A Bench of Justices GP Mathur and AK Mathur said the most important factor to be considered in divorce cases was if the marriage could be saved and the husband and wife could live together happily and maintain a proper atmosphere for the upbringing of their offspring.
Quoting with approval from a case decided by the apex court in 1982, the Bench noted that "over the decades a more liberal attitude has been adopted, fostered by a recognition of the need for individual happiness of the adult parties directly involved."
It dismissed a woman's petition challenging an order of the Bombay High Court, which upheld the decree of divorce awarded to her husband by the Jalgaon District Judge in 2002.
However, it directed the husband, who had already married another woman and had a daughter from the second marriage, to pay Rs 8 lakh towards maintenance of his divorced wife and the son born out of the first wedlock.
Observing that the word 'cruelty' and the kind or degree of 'cruelty' which may amount to a matrimonial offence has not been defined in the Act, the court said neither actual nor presumed intention to hurt the other spouse is a necessary element in matrimonial cruelty.
The court clarified that it has to be inferred from the facts of the case, matrimonial relations of the parties and interaction in their daily life.
"Where there is proof of a deliberate course of conduct on the part of one, intended to hurt and humiliate the other spouse, and such a conduct is persisted, cruelty can easily be inferred," the court said.
"What is cruel treatment is to a large extent a question of fact or a mixed question of law and fact and no dogmatic answer can be given to the variety of problems that arise before the court in these kinds of cases. The law has no standard by which to measure the nature and degree of cruel treatment that may satisfy the test," it said.