Denying Sex To Spouse For Long Is “Mental Cruelty”: Allahabad High Court

Refusing sex to one’s spouse for a prolonged period without justifiable reason amounted to mental cruelty, Allahabad HC observed while dissolving a couple’s marriage

As per the petition, Ravindra Yadav was married to Asha Devi since 1979. But, after some time the wife's behaviour "changed" and she started staying away from her husband. Despite staying under the same roof, they never had sexual intercourse.

The Allahabad High Court has upheld the divorce granted by the Court below to a couple living separately for almost 13 years.In the divorce petition filed by the husband, the Court below had decided the issue of dissertation against him. However, divorce was granted on grounds of mental cruelty inflicted by the wife on the husband.

Varanasi resident Ravindra Pratap Yadav had filed an appeal against a family court’s order dismissing his divorce petition on November 28, 2005. He had sought divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty inflicted by his wife by refusing to co-habit and discharge the obligations of marital life. 

In its order on May 16, a division bench comprising Justices Suneet Kumar and Rajendra Kumar noted that the family court adopted a hyper-technical approach and dismissed the plaintiff’s plea despite the fact that there was nothing on record to contradict the evidence filed by him

“Since there is no acceptable view in which a spouse can be compelled to resume life with the consort, nothing is given by trying to keep the parties tied together to a marriage,” the bench said. 

According to the petitioner, the couple got married in May 1979 and after some time, his wife’s behaviour changed and she refused to cohabit with him. Later, she began to live at her parents’ house. After six months of marriage, he tried to convince his wife to come back, but she refused. In July 1994, a panchayat was held in the village and the parties reached an agreement and got divorced by mutual consent. The petitioner claimed that he paid an alimony of Rs 22,000 to his wife. 

However, when the husband sought a decree of divorce on the basis of mental cruelty, desertion and a divorce agreement, she did not turn up in court. Proceeding ex-parte, the principal judge of Varanasi family court dismissed the husband’s divorce petition.

What is mental cruelty? 

According to Section 13(i) (a) of the Hindu Marriage Act , 1955, mental cruelty is broadly defined as that moment when either party causes mental pain, agony, or suffering of such a magnitude that it severs the bond between the wife and husband and as a result of which it becomes impossible for the party who has suffered to live with the other party. The question of mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the particular society to which the parties belong, their social values, status, and the environment in which they live

Who can seek divorce on the grounds of cruelty? 

In many countries, cruelty is a significant factor in divorce cases. Cruelty covers various actions between spouses that can lead to divorce. Both the husband and wife can seek divorce based on cruelty. Cruelty in a marriage involves various forms of harm inflicted by one spouse on the other, including physical abuse, emotional trauma, and mental harassment. This harm can take the shape of hurtful words, insults, neglect, or actions aimed at humiliating the partner. When there's physical harm involved, like hitting or kicking, it's considered physical cruelty. Emotional distress or hurtful actions fall under mental harassment or emotional cruelty as recognized by the law. Mental cruelty encompasses acts that cause significant suffering, disrupt communication, or intentionally undermine a person's credibility in the marriage. In marriage, spouses have the legal right to file a case against each other for physical or mental cruelty. Courts thoroughly review such cases, aiming to find fair legal resolutions that prioritize the welfare of both partners. 

What constitutes mental cruelty? 

The conduct of the concerned party should be grave and substantial and it must be much more serious than the ordinary wear and tear of daily life. Mental cruelty can vary depending upon different matrimonial cases so it is impossible to have a uniform standard to go by. Some instances illustrative of what defines mental cruelty as described by the Supreme Court of India (SC) are enumerated here. 

  • On consideration of the complete matrimonial life of the parties, acute mental pain, agony, and suffering as would not make it possible for the parties to live with each other, could come within the broad parameters of mental cruelty; 
  • On a comprehensive appraisal of the entire matrimonial life of the parties involved, it becomes abundantly clear that a situation is such that the wronged party cannot reasonably be asked to put up with such conduct and continue to live with the other party; 
  • Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty however frequent rudeness of language, petulance of manner, indifference, and neglect may reach such a degree that it makes the married life for the other spouse absolutely intolerable; 
  • Mental cruelty is a state of mind – The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, or frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of the other over a long period of time may lead to mental cruelty; 
  • An unrelenting course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render miserable the life of one spouse; 
  • Sustained unjustifiable conduct and behavior of one spouse actually affecting the physical and mental health of the other spouse – The treatment complained of and the resultant danger or apprehension must be very grave, substantial, and weighty; 
  • Sustained reprehensible conduct, studied neglect, indifference, or total departure from the normal standard of conjugal kindness causing injury to mental health or deriving sadistic pleasure can also amount to mental cruelty; 
  • The conduct must be much more than jealousy, selfishness, and possessiveness, which causes unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Being emotionally upset may not be a valid ground for granting a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty;
  • Mere trivial irritations, quarrels, and normal wear and tear of married life which happens in day-to-day life is also not adequate for granting a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty; 
  • The married life should be reviewed as a whole and a few isolated instances over a period of years will not amount to cruelty – The ill-conduct must be persistent for a fairly lengthy period, where the relationship has deteriorated to an extent that because of the acts and behavior of a spouse, the wronged party finds it extremely difficult to live with the other party any longer. This may amount to mental cruelty; 
  • If a husband submits himself for an operation of sterilization without medical reasons and without the consent or knowledge of his wife and similarly, if the wife undergoes vasectomy or abortion without medical reason or without the consent or knowledge of her husband, such an act of the spouse may lead to mental cruelty; 
  • Unilateral decision of refusal to have intercourse for considerable periods of time without there being any physical incapacity or valid reason may amount to mental cruelty; 
  • Unilateral decisions made by either husband or wife after marriage to not have a child from the marriage may amount to cruelty; 
  • Where there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly be concluded that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair – The marriage becomes a fiction though supported by a legal tie – By refusing to sever that tie, the law in such cases, does not serve the sanctity of marriage. On the contrary, it shows scant regard for the feelings and emotions of the parties involved – In such situations, it may lead to mental cruelty. 

How to prove mental cruelty in a court? 

Establishing a case of mental cruelty depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However, following ways, you can prove mental cruelty in a court:

Your oral testimony or in writing is sufficient ground for proving mental cruelty. Strengthen your oral or written evidence with instances of mental cruelty like continuous non – cohabitation or denying the physical relationships, verbal and physical abuses, arrogant behavior, and an incompatible or ever-increasing difference of opinion aggravating the domestic relationship. 

Audio and video evidence are the best evidence and it is broadly admitted by the court. You can also strengthen your case with witnesses ’ testimonies. 

Mental Cruelty as Grounds for a Divorce

In marriage, both partners are expected to offer love, respect, and companionship to each other, providing physical, mental, and emotional support to avoid resentment. However, if either spouse withdraws these sentiments, it can sadly result in cruelty within the marriage. In divorce cases, cruelty can be a valid reason if there is mistreatment involved. Factors like physical abuse, infidelity, or unexplained refusal of intimacy can be considered forms of domestic violence, making cruelty a legitimate ground for divorce. To maintain a peaceful and harmonious marriage, couples must respect each other's boundaries and treat each other with care, avoiding hurtful emotions and distress. 

IPC 498A in Case of Mental Cruelty in Divorce 

Under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Section 498A safeguards married women from cruelty. This section broadly defines cruelty, encompassing deliberate actions that may lead the wife to contemplate suicide or cause severe physical or mental harm. Harassing a wife to coerce her family into illegal property or security demands is also deemed cruelty under Section 498A. Section 498A prevents married women from being forced out of their homes and criminalizes cruelty, whether direct or indirect, by the husband or related individuals. It covers threats, verbal, and emotional abuse, as well as physical violence, protecting women from domestic violence and offering a strong legal remedy.

What Amounts to Cruelty by a Wife? 

Cruelty as a reason for divorce is recognized in both religious and secular laws in India. It can encompass both physical and mental cruelty, as defined by case laws. In divorce cases, instances of mental cruelty by a wife are not uncommon. The honorable Supreme Court has reiterated some examples of mental cruelty in marriage, including: 

1. In the case of Naveen Kohli v. Neetu Kohli, the Supreme Court defined cruelty in marriage as serious and significant. They concluded that if one spouse is subjected to mental cruelty, expecting them to continue living with the other spouse becomes unreasonable. Mental cruelty can include insults, verbal abuse, and the use of offensive language that disrupts the mental peace of the affected spouse. 

2. In the V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat case, "Mental cruelty under Section 13(1)(ia)" refers to behavior that inflicts severe emotional distress on one party, making it impossible for them to continue living together. 

3. In the case of Savitri Pandey vs. Prem Chandra Pandey, the highest court defined mental cruelty as one spouse's behavior causing emotional pain or fear in the marital life of the other spouse. 

4. In the case of Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh, the Supreme Court acknowledged the challenge of establishing a consistent standard for mental cruelty in a marriage. However, the court did provide a comprehensive explanation by highlighting various examples, not meant to be an exhaustive list, that encompassed different aspects of a married life, which could potentially be considered as causing mental cruelty to a spouse: 

  • Severe emotional distress that makes living together unbearable. 
  • The hurt party shouldn't have to endure such cruelty from their spouse. 
  • When one partner unreasonably refuses to live together or engage in sexual relations for an extended time without a valid reason or physical incapacity. 
  • In a marriage, one spouse can experience profound distress, disappointment, and frustration when their partner engages in prolonged cruel behavior. 
  • Simply being cold or lacking affection does not necessarily constitute cruelty. 
  • A spouse enduring a wretched existence caused by an ongoing pattern of abuse and degrading treatment intentionally designed to torment them. 
  • Marriage has become unbearable because my spouse is often rude, acts impatient, shows a lack of interest, and neglects our relationship to a great extent. 
  • One spouse's ongoing and unconfirmed behavior is harming the physical and mental well[1]being of the other spouse. 
  • Reprehensible behavior in marriage, such as indifference, deliberate neglect, or a complete disregard for basic kindness, which causes harm to one's mental health or is done with sadistic enjoyment. 
  • In general, experiencing unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or emotional distress alone may not be sufficient grounds for obtaining a divorce based on mental cruelty. 
  • In order to establish mental cruelty, minor annoyances, common disagreements, and the natural wear and tear of married life are insufficient. 
  • Persistent and prolonged misbehavior over time that has severely damaged the relationship to the point where the wronged party can't bear living with their spouse due to their actions. 
  • Cruelty can result from sterilizing the husband or performing a vasectomy or abortion on the wife without the other spouse's consent or knowledge. 
  • Cruelty may arise if one spouse unilaterally decides not to have children after marriage. 
  • A long, continuous separation between spouses that suggests an irreparable breakdown of the marital bond can also be considered a form of cruelty

Case laws in which divorce is granted in favor of husbands related to mental cruelty 

In the Samar Ghosh vs. Jaya Ghosh (2007) Supreme Court case, involving a marital dispute between two IAS officers, the husband claimed that his wife unilaterally decided not to have a child and prevented him from showing affection to her daughter from a previous marriage. She neglected his health, didn't cook for him, humiliated him by asking him to leave her place, and turned down the idea of moving in together. The court held that the wife's behavior constituted mental cruelty and confirmed the husband's divorce, as granted by the trial court. 

In the case of Vishwanath vs. Sarla Vishwanath Agrawal (2012), it was established that the wife's sustained actions of humiliating and deliberately tormenting her husband caused him significant mental pain and suffering, both privately and publicly. In such circumstances, the husband was not obligated to endure his wife's behavior and was granted a divorce decree. Permanent alimony hinged on factors such as social status, conduct, lifestyle, and more. In the end, the husband's appeal succeeded, and he won the divorce decree. 

In the case of Malathi Ravi vs. B.V. Ravi (30.06.2014 – SC), the High Court reversed the decree for conjugal rights in favor of the wife and granted a divorce to the husband. This appeal questions whether the order correctly reversed the conjugal rights decree. It was found that the wife couldn't prove her allegations of conflicts with her sister and brother-in-law. She admitted that her husband supported her higher education. The husband suffered mental cruelty, and despite his requests, the wife showed no interest in returning home. Ultimately, the divorce decree in favor of the husband was upheld.

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