In the judgment of the case – Joydeep Majumdar v. Bharti Jaiswal Majumdar delivered on February 26, 2021, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, has ruled that in a case where wife's irresponsible allegations affect the career and reputation of her husband irreparably, that behaviour on her part constitutes "mental cruelty".
For considering dissolution of marriage at the instance of a spouse, who allege mental cruelty must be such that it is not possible to continue with the matrimonial relationship. In other words, the wronged party cannot be expected to condone such conduct and continue to live with his/her spouse. The degree of tolerance will vary from one couple to another and the Court will have to bear in mind the background. The level of education and also the status of the parties, in order to determine whether the cruelty alleged is sufficient to justify dissolution of marriage, at the instance of the wronged party.
In its judgment of the case – Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh-(2007) 4 SCC 511, the SC has given illustrative cases, where inference of mental cruelty could be drawn even while emphasizing that no uniform standard can be laid down and each case will have to be decided on its own facts.
The materials in this case reveal that the respondent had made several defamatory complaints to the appellant-husband's superiors in the Army for which, a Court of Inquiry was held by the Army authorities against the appellant. Primarily for those, the appellant's career progress got affected. The respondent was also making complaints to other authorities, such as, the State Commission for women and had also posted defamatory materials on other platforms. The net outcome of above is that the appellant's career and reputation had suffered damage and loss respectively.
As the appellant suffered adverse consequences in his life and career on account of the allegations made by his (respondent) wife and due to this, according to the Court the legal consequences must follow and those cannot be prevented only because, no Court has determined that the allegations were false. The Uttarakhand High Court however felt that without any definite finding on the allegation of wife's allegation, the wronged spouse would be disentitled to relief. This is not found to be the correct way to deal with the issue.
Proceeding with the above understanding, the question which requires to be answered here is whether the conduct of the respondent-wife would fall within the realm of mental cruelty. Here, the allegations have been leveled by a highly educated spouse and they do have the propensity to irreparably damage the character and reputation of the appellant-husband. When the reputation of the spouse is sullied amongst his colleagues, his superiors and the society at large, it would be difficult to hope for condonation of such conduct by the affected party.
The explanation of the wife that she made those complaints in order to protect the matrimonial ties would not justify. In the SC's view, the persistent effort was made by her to undermine the dignity and reputation of her husband (The appellant).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.
The challenge in these two appeals was to the analogous judgment and order of June 25, 2019 in the first appeals whereby the Uttarakhand HC had allowed both appeals by reversing the common order of July 4, 2017 of the Family Court, Dehradun. Before the Family Court, the appellant had succeeded with his case for dissolution of marriage but the respondent had failed to secure a favourable verdict in her petition for restitution of conjugal rights.
The appellant is an Army Officer with M.Tech qualification. The respondent-wife is holding a faculty position in the Govt PG College at Tehri with Ph.D. degree. They got married on September 27, 2006 and lived together for few months at Vishakhapatnam and at Ludhiana. But from the initial days of married life, differences cropped up and since September 15, 2007, the couple lived apart.
Following the estrangement, the appellant earlier applied for divorce from the Family Court at Vishakhapatnam. The respondent, then filed a petition for restitution of conjugal rights in the Dehradun Court. Later, when she came to know about the case filed by the appellant at Vishakhapatnam, she filed Transfer Petition before the Supreme Court. The appellant appeared at the SC and intimated that he would be withdrawing the case at Vishakhapatnam.
The appellant had assured the SC that if he would be filing any case , that would be filed before the Court in Dehradun and in that eventuality , the SC has directed the Court there that it would dispose of the case expeditiously without any undue loss of time.
In the divorce proceedings, the appellant had pleaded that he was subjected to numerous, malicious complaints by the respondent, which have affected his career and damaged his reputation, resulting in mental cruelty. On the other hand, the respondent in her case for restitution of conjugal rights, contended that the husband without any reasonable cause had deserted her and accordingly she had pleaded for direction to the appellant, for resumption of matrimonial life.
The Family Court at Dehardun considered both the cases and gave a finding that the respondent had failed to establish her allegation of adultery against the husband. It was further found that the respondent-wife had subjected the appellant to mental cruelty with her complaints to the Army and other authorities. Consequently the Court had allowed the appellant's suit for dissolution of marriage and simultaneously dismissed the respondent's petition for restitution of conjugal rights.
Responding to the appeals by both the parties, HC noted that the cruelty is the core issue in the dispute. While it was the finding of the HC that the wife did write to various authorities commenting on her husband's character and conduct ,the HC's division bench opined that those cannot be construed as cruelty since no court has concluded that those allegations were false or fabricated.
According to the HC, the conduct of the partiers against each other would at best be squabbles of ordinary middle class married life. The HC reversed the decision of the Family Court totally in favour of the wife and against the husband through the impugned judgment.
Disposing of the couple's appeals against the HC's judgment, the SC has stated in its judgment the SC has stated that in its considered opinion, the HC was in error in describing the broken relationship as normal wear and tear of middle class married life. It is a definite case of cruelty inflicted by the respondent-wife against the appellant and as such there is enough justification to set aside the impugned judgment of the HC and to restore the order passed by the Family Court and the SC has ordered accordingly.