New Delhi: A husband can now seek a divorce from his wife if she restricts him from fulfilling duties towards aged parents, a new Supreme Court judgement maintained, on Thursday.
Hearing a divorce appeal between a couple from Karnataka, the apex court said that "no son would want to be separated from his old parents and family members, who are also dependent upon his income" and the "persistent effort of the wife to constrain the husband to be separated from the family... constitute an act of cruelty", and thus a valid ground for divorce.
The apex court held that “in a Hindu society, it is a pious obligation of the son to maintain the parents. If a wife makes an attempt to deviate from the normal practice and normal custom of the society, she must have some justifiable reason for that”.
The court said that it found no “justifiable reason, except monetary consideration of the wife” in the present case.
Upholding the conclusion of a trial court, the SC categorically stated that “the persistent effort of the wife to constrain the husband to be separated from the family would be torturous for the husband and in our opinion, the trial Court was right when it came to the conclusion that this constitutes an act of ‘cruelty”.
“The evidence shows that the family was virtually maintained from the income of the (appellant) husband. It is not a common practice or desirable culture for a Hindu son in India to get separated from his parents on getting married at the instance of the wife, especially when the son is the only earning member in the family. A son, brought up and given education by his parents, has a moral and legal obligation to take care and maintain the parents, when they become old and when they have either no income or have a meagre income," reads the judgement.
Going into detail on a son’s duty as defined by ‘Indian tradition’, the judgement observed: "In India, generally people do not subscribe to the western thought, where, upon getting married or attaining majority, the son gets separated from the family. In normal circumstances, a wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after the marriage. She becomes integral to and forms part of the family of the husband and normally without any justifiable strong reason, she would never insist that her husband should get separated from the family and live only with her."
The judgement further reads, “In the instant case, upon appreciation of the evidence, the trial Court came to the conclusion that merely for monetary considerations, the Respondent (wife) wanted to get her husband separated from his family. The averment of the Respondent was to the effect that the income of the Appellant (husband) was also spent towards maintaining his family. The said grievance of the Respondent is absolutely unjustified. A son maintaining his parents is absolutely normal in Indian culture and ethos. There is no other reason for which the Respondent wanted the Appellant to be separated from the family — the sole reason was to enjoy the income of the Appellant. Unfortunately, the high court considered this to be a justifiable reason. In the opinion of the high court, the wife had a legitimate expectation to see that the income of her husband is used for her and not for the family members of the Respondent husband."
The couple got married in 1992 and a year later blessed with a girl child. However, the husband filed a divorce plea alleging harassment because of his wife’s constant suspicion about him having illegal affairs with a maid. The family court granted the decree of divorce dated 17 November 2001 "after considering the evidence adduced by both the parties. The wife not satisfied by the family court order filed an appeal in the high court which was allowed, whereby the decree of divorce given by the family court in 2001 was set aside. Following which the husband filed an appeal in the apex court, challenging the high court order, on which the judgement was pronounced on Thursday.
However, the apex court while rejecting the allegation held: “There is sufficient evidence to the effect that there was no maid named Kamla working at the residence of the appellant. Some averment with regard to some relative has been relied upon by the high court to come to a conclusion that there was a lady named Kamla but the high court has ignored the fact that the Respondent (wife) had levelled allegations with regard to an extra-marital affair of the appellant with the maid and not with someone else."
While the unreasonable suspicion has been accepted as a valid ground for divorce by various courts in different cases, the moral question of a son’s duty towards parents and the impediment caused by the wife in performing these duties has now become a new ground for divorce with this judgment.