Husband cannot abandon wife on the ground of schizophrenia, rules the Supreme Court

Husband cannot abandon wife on the ground of schizophrenia, rules the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has ruled that temporary ill-health including schizophrenia, cannot be a ground for divorce under Section 13 (1) (iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act.

The Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and V. GopalaGowda, held “Under Hindu law, marriage is an institution, a meeting of two hearts and minds and is something that cannot be taken lightly.”Further, “any person may have bad health, this is not their fault and most times, it is not within their control, as in the present case.”

The apex court noted that the respondent had completed MBBS and a postgraduate diploma in Medicine,in addition to continuously working as a Government Medical Officer. It observed “Had she been suffering from any serious kind of mental disorder, particularly, acute type of schizophrenia, it would have been impossible for her to work in the post. The appellant-husband cannot simply abandon his wife because she is suffering from sickness.” If he felt that she “is still suffering, then she must be given the right treatment. The respondent must stick to her treatment plan and make the best attempts to get better.”

In 2006, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had set aside the judgment and decree of divorce granted in favour of the appellant by the trial court. The High Court had held that there was no positive evidence to show that the respondent had suffered from schizophrenia and even if she had suffered from some form of schizophrenia, it could not be said she was suffering from such a serious ailment.

The apex court accepted the verdict of the AP High Court that “Schizophrenia is a treatable, manageable disease, on par with hypertension and diabetes.”  “The High Court has thus rightly set aside the decree of dissolution of marriage and granted a decree of restitution of conjugal rights in favour of the respondent by allowing her petition” ruled the Bench. “The respondent [Kollam Padma Latha] was unwell and was taking treatment. The illness had its fair share of problems. [But] can this be a reason for the appellant [Kollam Chandra Sekhar] to abandon her and seek dissolution of marriage after a child is born out of their union?,” said the Bench

Section 13(1)(iii) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 reads as follows:

“…(iii)  has been incurably of unsound mind, or has been suffering continuously or intermittently from mental disorder of such a kind and to such an extent that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent. Explanation.- In this clause,-

(a) the expression" mental disorder" means mental illness, arrested or incomplete development of mind, psychopathic disorder or any other disorder or disability of mind and includes schizophrenia;…”

In 2011, the Supreme Court had held that a husband or a wife is entitled to divorce if either spouse is found to be mentally unsound or indulges in cruelty. A bench of justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan had said that under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriages Act, either of the spouse can seek divorce, provided sufficient evidence is placed to justify the claim.In that judgment, the apex court had upheld the appeal challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court's refusal to grant the husband divorce despite producing medical and other evidence to prove that his wife suffered from schizophrenia and subjected him to humiliation, assaults and threatened suicide.