If an estranged spouse, after agreeing for a divorce through mutual consent, changes his or her mind and subsequently backtracks on the consent terms then such conduct amounts to harassment of the other spouse and is an abuse of the process of law, the Bombay high court has held.
In a recent judgment, justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi held that once two litigating parties arrive at a compromise then either of them cannot unilaterally backtrack on the consent terms if the other party has already acted upon the consent terms either wholly or in part.
Justice Phansalkar-Joshi was hearing an appeal filed by Arun Patil, a railways officer, against a sessions court judgment. According to Patil’s plea, after litigating over their divorce petition for several years, he and his estranged wife Sandhya came upon an agreement or compromise whereby, Sandhya agreed to withdraw all criminal cases that she had filed against Patil and his family members under the Domestic Violence and Dowry Prohibition Acts and in turn, Patil agreed to amend his plea seeking divorce on the grounds of cruelty. And both agreed to file for divorce on mutual consent to make the divorce procedure simpler and quicker.
Patil also agreed to give Sandhya Rs 5 lakh as a permanent maintenance amount.
However, once their divorce plea was converted into one by mutual consent and the divorce was granted, and after Patil gave her the money, Sandhya changed her mind and refused to withdraw the criminal cases filed against Patil and his family members.
Patil’s plea in the sessions court against the same was rejected and he thus, approached the HC.
He contended that since Sandhya’s purpose of a divorce through mutual consent was met, she had nothing to lose anymore and thus, had refused to keep her side of the agreement. The same, he said was unfair and must not be allowed.
Conceding to his arguments, justice Phansalkar-Joshi held that neither party must be allowed to withdraw the consent terms given while filing for divorce through mutual consent.
She cited a previous apex court judgment that when one party has acted on the consent terms to its disadvantage, the other party having received the benefits which she wanted, “she cannot be allowed to backtrack on the consent terms, as it would amount to harassment of the first party.”
“The respondent (Sandhya) first agreed to the compounding of the offence and subsequently withdrew consent that too, after taking undue advantage on the basis of such compromise. She cannot be allowed to go back on her consent terms as it would clearly amount to abuse of process of law,” justice Phansalkar-Joshi held, while directing that the cases against Patil and his family members, filed by Sandhya under the DV Act and the Dowry Prohibition Act, be quashed.