Divorce Cruelty Differs For Women And Men, Needs Broader Approach: SC

The Supreme Court said that the word "cruelty." The top court noted that what is considered cruelty in one case may not be the same in another, and it has to be applied from person to person while considering the circumstances.

Kalyani Ganesan
New Update
inter-caste marriages ,Constitutional Validity State Laws Anti-Conversion

Image Credits: File Photo

The Supreme Court recently said that the word "cruelty" under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act gives wide discretion to courts "to apply it liberally and contextually." Interpreting the meaning of cruelty, the top court noted that what is considered cruelty in one case may not be the same in another, and it has to be applied from person to person while considering the circumstances.

The court noted that what is cruelty for a woman in a given case may not be cruelty for a man while granting a decree of divorce to a woman.

Cruelty For Woman And Man May Differ

A two-judge bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh observed that "a relatively more elastic and broad approach is required to examine a case in which a wife seeks divorce." The court was hearing the case of an estranged wife who sought divorce on the grounds of cruelty, claiming that her husband assassinated her character.

The petitioner’s advocate, Parashar, contended that both the trial court and the high court had refused to grant divorce. The top court noted that the couple had gotten married in 2002, and the marriage started breaking after the birth of their child. The couple has been having disputes since 2006.

It was submitted to the bench that the wife had lodged a complaint under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act while the husband had questioned the character of the wife. The top court also noted that the husband claimed that the wife had left the matrimonial home and demanded a medical examination of the wife as she was "allegedly" involved in "adultery" and had given birth to a child during the period when the couple were not living together.

The Supreme Court also noted that the high court and trial court had rejected the divorce plea and that they had been living separately for a decade and a half. Taking into account all the facts, the top court decided that the marriage no longer existed and the relationship was already terminated except for a formal decree of divorce.


Setting aside the Chhattisgarh High Court and trial court orders and granting divorce to the woman, the Supreme Court said that the allegations made by the husband against the wife are as serious as the allegations made by her. The top court also noted that both parties have moved on and settled in their respective lives, adding that there was no need to continue the agony of mere status without them living together.

It also added that children of couples who fight become direct victims, although they may play no role in the said fight. They end up suffering irreparable harm when parents continue to stay at loggerheads every day, unconcerned about the psychological and mental impact it will have on the child.

Why "Cruelty" Is Subjective

As the Supreme Court observed, "cruelty" is a very subjective term in divorce cases; it varies from case to case and from one individual to another, especially between a man and a woman. For instance, when a woman accuses her husband of being involved in adultery, it might not have the same social impact on him moving forward, while on the other hand, one black spot on a woman’s character turns out to be detrimental to her entire life. Such is the patriarchal society we live in!

While the court might cite previous cases to support certain arguments or pronounce certain verdicts, one divorce case can never be compared to another. Each and every case is different; the parties involved, their lives, the problem, the situation, etc., are subjective. So, it’s never possible to attach an invariable definition to "cruelty." Each case must be thoroughly scrutinised to comprehend, evaluate, and deliver a fair and just verdict.

Suggested Reading: Excessive Drinking By Husband Is Mental Cruelty: Chhattisgarh HC

Supreme Court of India divorce Cruelty For Woman And Man May Differ