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Monday, November 10, 2008

Court: abortion without husband’s knowledge is ground for divorce

New Delhi: Abortion by a woman without her husband’s knowledge and consent will amount to mental cruelty and a ground for divorce, the Supreme Court has held.

“Mental cruelty is a state of mind. The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of the other for a long time may lead to mental cruelty. A sustained course of abusive and humiliating treatment calculated to torture, discommode or render life miserable for the spouse,” said a Bench consisting of Justices C.K. Thakker and D.K. Jain.

Writing the judgment, Justice Thakker said: “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, possessiveness, which caused unhappiness and dissatisfaction and emotional upset but might not be a reason for grant of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty.

Absence of intention
The Bench said: “To establish legal cruelty, it is not necessary that physical violence should be used. Continuous cessation of marital intercourse or total indifference on the part of the husband towards marital obligations would lead to legal cruelty. In such cases, the cruelty will be established if the conduct itself is proved or admitted. The absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty. Mens rea is not a necessary element in cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has been no deliberate or wilful ill treatment.”

The court said: “Mere coldness or lack of affection cannot amount to cruelty; 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.”

In the instant case, Suman Kapur was aggrieved at the decree of divorce granted against her by a trial court and confirmed by the Delhi High Court. Both courts gave a finding that her three abortions without the knowledge and consent of her husband, Sudhir Kapur, was a valid ground for divorce. Disposing of the appeal, the Bench noted that Sudhir Kapur got remarried on March 5, 2007 before the expiry of the period of 90 days for filing appeal before this court and a child was born from the second marriage.

“Since, we are confirming the decree of divorce on the ground of mental cruelty as held by both courts, i.e. the trial court as well as the High Court, no relief can be granted so far as the reversal of decree of the courts below is concerned. At the same time, however, in our opinion, the respondent-husband should not have remarried before the expiry of period stipulated for filing appeal. Ends of justice would be met if we direct the respondent to pay Rs. 5 lakh to the appellant.”

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