14 Sep 2023 6:54 AM GMT
A family’s social strata would be a relevant consideration in deciding divorce cases on grounds of “cruelty”, the Bombay High Court has held.Two years of marriage and 14 years of separation later the High Court granted a businessman divorce from his wife on grounds of ‘cruelty’ but upheld maintenance granted to the woman. A division bench of Justices Nitin Sambre and Sharmila...
A family’s social strata would be a relevant consideration in deciding divorce cases on grounds of “cruelty”, the Bombay High Court has held.
Two years of marriage and 14 years of separation later the High Court granted a businessman divorce from his wife on grounds of ‘cruelty’ but upheld maintenance granted to the woman.
A division bench of Justices Nitin Sambre and Sharmila Deshmukh observed,
“While considering the conduct of the Respondent in context of ‘cruelty’ as contemplated under the provisions of Section 13 (1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the strata of the society to which the Petitioner belongs will also be relevant.”
The court took note of “irresponsible, false and baseless allegations” by the wife in the written statement as well as an FIR registered against the family after the divorce proceedings.
“In the instant case, the Petitioner belongs to an affluent family and the conduct of the Respondent (wife) alleging illicit relationship, dowry demands and filthy abuse and assault as against the Petitioner and his parents to the extent of describing them as mean minded and miserable persons, without being able to substantiate the allegations, has resulted in lowering the reputation of the Petitioner and his parents in the society and constitutes cruelty within the meaning of Section 13 (i)(i-a) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.”
But, despite the man’s claims of drawing a meagre salary of only Rs. 10,000 from one of his family-owned businesses, the court upheld the Family Court’s 2009 order to provide accommodation and Rs. 30,000 maintenance per month to the woman.
It noted it was evident the man belonged to an affluent family engaged in various businesses like construction, hotel and a nursing home. “The lifestyle enjoyed by the Petitioner justifies the inference that the Petitioner is the beneficiary of the family income….”
“As there is no direct substantiated evidence on record regarding the monthly income of the Petitioner, this Court will have to be guided by the attending circumstances which demonstrate the affluent lifestyle of the Petitioner and his family members to determine the issue of monthly maintenance,” the bench added.
The High Court disposed of two appeals filed by the husband against orders of the Family Court refusing him divorce on grounds of cruelty and the second petition allowing his wife maintenance.
The couple was married as per Hindu vedic rites in 2007. In 2009 the husband filed for divorce under Section 13 (1)(i-a)(i-b) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 alleging cruelty. In 2011, the wife approached the Family Court under Section 18 (2)(a)(b) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 seeking monthly maintenance of Rs.30,000, residence and litigation cost.
The husband alleged the woman didn’t respect his parents or looked after them. He cited his family’s exoneration in an FIR filed by the wife against them after the divorce case as grounds of cruelty. He also alleged she would quarrel with him if he refused to allow her to visit her parents and kept insisting on a separate house.
The wife alleged her husband was having an affair with a Muslim girl and wanted to marry her; he was busy with the phone the entire duration of the honeymoon; he was possessive and married life with her in-laws was nightmarish.
The Family Court found the grounds for divorce to be vague and lacking in perspective. However, the High Court had a different view. It found allegations like insulting the parents, clandestinely talking to someone else, quarrelling with him, not to be grave enough for the husband to say it was harmful to reside with the wife.
Significantly, the court didn’t find the demand for a separate residence by the wife to be unreasonable since the petitioner’s brothers were already living separately in homes gifted by the father.
“The demand to stay separately, in our opinion, by itself, will not amount to mental cruelty unless it is shown that the said demand had become a bone of contention between the parties and have led to numerous fights leading to mental agony.”
However, the court said while considering “cruelty” the strata of society the parties belong to was relevant.
As for maintenance, the court noted the man is a qualified engineer, working in the construction business of the family apart from being a Director in a nursing home owned by his family. Moreover, his lifestyle wasn’t commensurate with his earnings. Not filing his income tax returns would result in an adverse inference against him, the court said.
“In our opinion, a person earning a salary of Rs.10,000/- per month is not financially capable of visiting Thailand for fun or maintaining a car, and, similarly contesting BMC election is beyond the reach of a person with such salary.”
Observing that the wife was entitled to the same status as that of the husband and in the absence of proof of her income, the HC upheld the maintenance order.