Home » News » Landmark Ruling by Madras High Court: Non-Support of Family Constitutes Cruelty

In a significant ruling, the Madras High Court in the case of X vs.Y, has declared that a husband’s refusal to live with his wife and children, provide them with financial support, or include their names in his railway service register amounts to cruelty.

The case in question involved a couple who had been living separately for approximately 12 years. The husband had sought to dissolve the marriage on the grounds of cruelty, invoking Section 13(1) (i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA). He had falsely accused his wife of having an illicit relationship with a co-worker.

The Family Court had granted the husband’s request for dissolution on the grounds of mental cruelty and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The wife had responded by stating that her husband had abandoned her and their children, refusing to provide financial support for their education. This led her to file a maintenance case, which the husband failed to pay.

The wife appealed the Family Court’s decision to the Madras High Court, which overturned the lower court’s ruling. The bench, comprising Justices RMT Teekaa Raman and PB Balaji, noted that the husband’s allegations of cruelty were not substantiated according to legal standards.
The court found that the husband’s refusal to live with his wife and children, provide financial support, or include them in his railway service register demonstrated cruelty. As a result, the wife was forced to live with her father.

Section 13(1) (i-a) of the HMA, which deals with cruelty as a ground for divorce, played a significant role in this case. Before the 1976 amendment to the HMA, cruelty was not a valid reason for divorce under the Act; it was only a ground for judicial separation under Section 10. The 1976 amendment made cruelty a ground for divorce, although the Act does not define the term.

Cruelty can be physical, causing pain to the spouse, or mental, causing stress or constant mental agony. In Shobha Rani v. Madhukar Reddi (1988), the Supreme Court stated that the term “cruelty” cannot have a fixed definition. In Mayadevi v. Jagdish Prasad (2007), the Court ruled that either spouse could apply for a divorce on grounds of cruelty if they experienced any form of mental cruelty.

The principle of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, which originated in New Zealand in 1921, has been invoked in several judicial decisions granting divorce. This principle applies when a couple has been living separately for a considerable period, and there is no chance of reconciliation. Although this principle has not been formally incorporated into the HMA, various Law Commission Reports have strongly recommended its inclusion.

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