Harming reputation ground for divorce, says Supreme Court
A divorce can be granted when the reputation of the spouse is sullied amongst his colleagues, his superiors and the society at large, ruled the Supreme Court on Friday, as it allowed the petition of an army officer whose wife wrote several complaints against him to his superiors and to women’s rights bodies.
An SC bench, headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, held that such demeanour by a wife will certainly amount to inflicting cruelty on the man, and will be grounds for divorce under marital laws.
“When the reputation of the spouse is sullied amongst his colleagues, his superiors and the society at large, it would be difficult to expect condonation of such conduct by the affected party... In circumstances like this, the wronged party cannot be expected to continue with the matrimonial relationship and there is enough justification for him to seek separation,” said the bench, which also included justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy.
The bench emphasised that when the career and reputation of a spouse were severely damaged because of the conduct of the other partner, it could not be expected of the former to reconcile and agree to live together again.
Authoring the judgment, justice Roy underlined that mental cruelty, as a ground for divorce, had to be understood keeping in mind the background, the level of education and the status of the couple in order to determine whether the conduct in question was such that it would justify dissolution of a marriage.
“The degree of tolerance will vary from one couple to another... no uniform standard can be laid down and each case will have to be decided on its own facts,” said the bench, holding an army officer could not be ordered to put up with a spouse who dented his career and reputation.
The bench also accepted the submissions by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who represented the army officer, that his client, who was made to stand a commission of inquiry over charges of adultery on the complaint of his wife, could not be now directed by a court to live with her under the same roof.
In this case, the man and the woman got married in September 2007 in Dehradun but they were soon separated after the wife left the matrimonial home and went to live with her parents after a few months.
A spate of litigation followed. The wife filed cases for maintenance, and FIRs under charges of cheating, dowry demands and breach of trust. The husband, on the other hand, sought divorce on the ground of cruelty and desertion.
The husband also got a decree of divorce from a court in Visakhapatnam, where his parents were settled, in February 2009. But this plea was later withdrawn by the man on a petition by the wife in the Supreme Court in 2011. The top court asked the man to file a fresh petition of divorce at a court in Dehradun where the wife lived.
Both the husband and the wife then went to a Dehradun court where the man pressed for divorce while the woman asked for restitution of conjugal rights and a direction to her husband to start living with her again. The family court ruled in favour of the man and gave divorce. However, when the woman filed an appeal against this order, the Uttarakhand high court set aside the decree of divorce.
The SC found it to be a fit case of granting divorce, saying the “high court was in error in describing the broken relationship as normal wear and tear of middle class married life.” It took note of the complaints written by the wife to her husband’s superiors and also to the state women commission because of which his “career and reputation had suffered”.