Cruelty: In dictionary terms, it implies intentional or unintentional behavior of an individual that causes physical or mental harm to other being.

Legal Cruelty: includes the acts committed by the erring spouse that enable injured spouse to get divorce from the Court. Section 13, Hindu Marriage Act enumerates the grounds on which divorce can be granted and Section 13(1) (ia) recognizes cruelty as a ground of divorce.

Institution of Marriage:

Marriage is a social institution in which two individuals capable of entering into matrimony have pledged themselves to institutional norms and values and committed to each other a cemented bond to sustain and maintain marital responsibility. It serves as a symbol for the human race’s survival. Despite the pledges and promises, individual incompatibilities, attitudinal differences based on egocentric perceptions of circumstances, maladjustment phenomenon or propensity for non-adjustment or refusal for adjustment becomes eminently projected on occasion, compelling both spouses to take unforgivable positions abandoning individual responsibility, proclivity for asserting superiority complex, betrayal of trust, which is the cornerstone of life, and sometimes a breakdown of the marriage.

Interpretation of Cruelty:

When a couple had lived the entire married life under extreme mental pain, agony, and suffering that would not make it impossible for them to remain together could fall within the broad definition of mental cruelty.

Mental cruelty is basically a mental state. For a long time, one spouse’s tremendous grief, disappointment, and frustration caused by the actions of the other might escalate to mental cruelty. It can also include repeated abominable behavior, deliberate neglect, indifference, or a complete departure from the typical standard of conjugal friendliness that harms mental health or provides sadistic enjoyment.

The entire married life should be examined, and a few isolated incidents over a period of years do not constitute cruelty. When a relationship has deteriorated to the point where the wronged party finds it extremely difficult to live with the other party due to the acts and behavior of a spouse, it may amount to mental cruelty.

After a long time of continuous separation, it is reasonable to conclude that the marriage bond is irreparably damaged. Under such circumstances, despite having a legal relationship, the marriage becomes fiction. The law in such instances does not serve the sanctity of marriage by refusing to sever that relationship; on the contrary, it displays scant consideration for the parties’ feelings and emotions. It may lead to mental cruelty in such situations.

Complexity in Interpretation of Cruelty:

The human mind is incredibly complex, and human behavior is no less so. Human creativity knows no bounds, therefore encapsulating all human behavior in a single description is nearly impossible. In some cases, what is cruel in one circumstance may not be cruel in another. Cruelty has many meanings for different people depending on their upbringing, sensitivity, educational, family, and cultural backgrounds, financial status, social standing, customs, traditions, religious views, human values, and value system.

Apart from that, the concept of mental cruelty cannot be static; it will evolve with the passage of time, the impact of modern society through print and electronic media, and value systems, among other things. What may appear to be mental cruelty at the time may not be so after some time has passed, or vice versa. There will never be a methodology or set of parameters that can be used to determine mental cruelty in matrimonial cases. The reasonable and proper approach to deciding the issue would be to assess it based on its unique facts and circumstances. Ultimately, the courts decide if there was cruelty in a particular case or not by considering pleadings of a case, evidence, and applying the law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in various cases.

Illustrative Examples:

The court interprets law from the perspective of a prudent man. A normal rational individual is bound to experience the sting and pungency if the partner’s behavior and circumstances clearly demonstrate that he/she humiliated the other person and caused mental cruelty. If the actions of a spouse plainly demonstrate that they have caused either of the partner to be in agony and anguish. A few examples of cruelty are given below:

  • the unproven allegations related to unaccepted sexual behavior of either spouse;
  • the allegations related to other habits like alcoholism or drugs abuse, and it gets widely publicized, it constitutes cruelty;
  • The outrageous unproven claims about the character of the spouse;
  • Failed criminal prosecutions on the spouse;
  • It may be cruel if a husband or wife decides unilaterally after marriage not to have a child from the union;
  • It may be considered mental cruelty to refuse to have intercourse for an extended period of time without any physical inability or valid reason;
  • If a husband undergoes sterilization without medical cause and without his wife’s agreement or knowledge, and if a wife undergoes vasectomy or abortion without a medical purpose and without her husband’s consent or knowledge, such an act of the spouse may constitute mental cruelty.

What will not Constitute Cruelty?

  • While simple coldness or lack of affection cannot be considered cruelty, repeated roughness of language, petulance of manner, apathy, and neglect can make married life unbearable for the other spouse;
  • Jealousy, selfishness, and possessiveness, which produce misery, discontent, and emotional upheaval, may not be grounds for granting a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. The threshold has to be higher;
  • Irritations, quarrels, and the regular wear and tear of married life that occurs in day-to-day life would not be sufficient grounds for granting a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty.

How can a Lawyer dealing in Matrimonial Disputes help you?

The couples involved in a divorce do not understand the nuances related to cruelty and it is always advised couples to seek legal advice from competent matrimonial lawyers. The best divorce lawyers can provide you with expert guidance on the different aspects related to the cruelty that can help you to make a correct legal recourse. You can seek legal advice from our matrimonial lawyers at The Law Codes.