After a span of twenty-seven years since a former Armed Forces officer initiated legal proceedings to dissolve his marriage, the Supreme Court has rejected the petition, while underscoring to the 89-year-old husband and his now 82-year-old wife that “marriage continues to be regarded as a sacred, spiritual, and invaluable emotional bond between husband and wife in Indian society.”
The couple originally tied the knot in March 1963, raising two daughters and a son. Their marital discord commenced when the officer was transferred from Amritsar to Madras in January 1984. His wife, who was employed as a teacher, opted not to accompany him, choosing instead to reside with her in-laws and later with her son.
Following fruitless efforts to amicably resolve their differences, the husband filed a divorce petition on grounds of cruelty and desertion. He argued that his wife had failed to visit him during his hospitalization due to a heart attack and had even lodged complaints against him with his superiors, which he regarded as acts of cruelty.
The couple had been living separately since March 1997 when the husband initially filed for divorce in a District Court, citing an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage and urging the court to utilize Article 142 of the Constitution to grant a divorce decree.
Conversely, his wife, an elderly woman, expressed her reluctance to bear the “stigma” of being labeled a “divorcee” and affirmed her unwavering commitment to the sacred bond they shared. She also extended an offer to care for her husband with assistance from their son. She contended that a lengthy period of separation did not necessarily signify an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage.
The Chandigarh District Court granted them a divorce in February 2000. However, following an appeal by the wife, a single-judge bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court overturned the decision in December 2000. In February 2009, a division bench of the High Court upheld the single-judge bench’s order, prompting the husband to approach the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court concurred with the High Court’s findings on cruelty and desertion, concluding that the husband had failed to establish that the respondent had subjected him to cruelty or deserted him as stipulated by the law.
In its judgment delivered on October 10, a bench comprised of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi acknowledged that the parties had resided separately for numerous years, and all efforts at reconciliation had proved unsuccessful. Consequently, it was assumed that the marriage had emotionally disintegrated and reached an irreparable state.
The judgment posed the question of whether an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage should inevitably result in the grant of a divorce decree under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution. It noted that a Constitution Bench had previously ruled in the case of Shilpa Shailesh vs. Varun Sreenivasan in May of the same year, affirming that the court could employ Article 142 powers to grant divorce on the grounds of an irretrievable breakdown of marriage.