At odd hours, if wife continues making discreet phone calls with another man even after a warning by husband, would it constitute matrimonial cruelty? Ker HC decides

Kerala High Court

Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of A. Muhamed Mustaque and Dr Justice Kauser Edappagath, JJ., held that, despite a warning by the husband, if the wife continues to make discreet calls with another man that too at odd hours, it would amount to matrimonial cruelty.

Background

Husband had instituted a petition for dissolution of marriage on the ground of adultery and cruelty, but the same was dismissed. A matrimonial appeal was filed challenging the said decision.

Wife had instituted a petition for return of gold ornaments and money, the same was allowed in part. Further another petition was instituted by the husband for appointing him as the guardian of a minor child, but the same was dismissed and a matrimonial appeal was filed challenging the same.

The above appeals were interconnected, hence this Court dealt with them together for their disposal.

Factual Matrix

In the present matter, both husband and wife accuse each other of the development of marital discord between them soon after the marriage.

Husband’s case was that, right from the inception of marriage, the wife perpetrated various iniquitous acts, ranging from mental agony by constantly using filthy language, abdicating all shared household duties, threatening to commit suicide, refusing to have sex, picking up quarrels constantly demanding to take her back to her parental home, ridiculing in front of others, abusing his mother, etc. making his life a living hell.

The wife did not stop the matrimonial cruelty and even dragged the husband’s mother and sister to matrimonial controversy launching a false and frivolous criminal prosecution against them.

The husband also stated that the wife had been maintaining an illicit relationship with the second respondent prior to her marriage and even thereafter.

Lower Court evaluated the evidence and found that the husband failed to prove that the wife was maintaining illicit relationship with the second respond and in so far as the ground of cruelty was concerned, the lower Court found that petitions for dissolution of marriage were settled, and parties had reunited. It was also held that inasmuch as the husband did not have a case in the present petition that the wife had caused physical or mental torture after the resumption of cohabitation, the divorce on the ground of cruelty cannot be granted.

In the case where divorce is sought on the ground of adultery, the proof required to establish adultery need not necessarily be proof beyond a shadow of doubt. Proof by preponderance of probabilities would be sufficient. Direct proof of adultery can rarely be given.

The circumstantial evidence is all that can normally be expected in proof of the charge of adultery.

In Court’s opinion, the allegation of adultery was not proved by the husband.

With regard to cruelty, the Court stated that,

Normally matrimonial cruelty takes place within the four walls of the matrimonial home and, therefore, independent witness may not be available. Hence, Court can even act upon the sole testimony of the spouse if it is found convincing and reliable. 

In the evidence of the husband, it came out that the wife caused innumerable mental stress and pain by consistently sharing abusive words and filthy language towards him and also by threatening to commit suicide on many occasions. The husband specifically deposed that right from the inception of marriage, there has been unusual conduct and abusive humiliating treatment on the part of the wife.

In view of the above, it could be inferred that the husband had every reason to apprehend that it was not safe for him to continue the marital relationship with his wife.

Condonation of Cruelty

Lower Court stated that, even assuming that the allegation of cruelty stood proved, there was clear condonation on the part of the accused.

Section 23(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act casts an obligation on the Court to consider the question of condonation which had to be discharged even in undefended cases.

“Condonation of matrimonial offence deprives the condoning spouse of the right of seeking relief on the offending conduct.”

However, condonation cannot be taken to be absolute and unconditional forgiveness.

Bench elaborated that, in case the matrimonial offence is repeated even after an act of condonation on the part of the spouse, it gets revived on the commission of subsequent act resulting in matrimonial disharmony.

It was noted that the husband and wife had entered into a compromise but later both of them accused each other of breaching the same.

High Court with respect to the above, added that mere compromise would not amount to condonation of cruelty unless and until the matrimonial life was restored and there was no evidence to indicate resumption of conjugal life after the compromise.

Whether making phone calls to the second respondents including odd hours as well would constitute mental cruelty?

Husband had deposed that he overheard the intimate conversation between the wife and the second respondent and on questioning, she told him that the second respondent was having more right over her body and mind than him.

Another pertinent fact was that the wife deposed that she used to call the second respondent only on certain days, though the documentary evidence proved otherwise.

Making discreet phone calls frequently by the wife with another man disregarding the warning of the husband, that too at odd hours, amounts to matrimonial cruelty.

Initiation of false complaint by wife against husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law

High Court expressed that making false complaints and initiating false criminal prosecution by one spouse against other constitutes mental cruelty.

In K. Srinivas v. K. Sunitha, (2014) 16 SCC 34, Supreme Court held that filing false complaint against husband and his family members under S.498A and S.307 of Indian Penal Code will amount to matrimonial cruelty defined under S.13(1)(ia) of Hindu Marriage Act.

In Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli, (2006) 4 SCC 558, it was held that making false complaints before the police and authorities causing innumerable mental stress and making false and defamatory allegations will amount to mental cruelty.

High Court opined that the initiation of criminal prosecution was false.

Mental Cruelty was clearly constituted, the Court remarked on noting that the wife kept making continuous telephonic interaction with the second respondent ignoring the warning given by the husband and false initiation of criminal prosecution by the wife against husband and his parents after the reunion and the said are sufficient to revive the past acts of proved cruelty.

Both husband and wife had been living separately since 2012, hence a case for dissolution of marriage under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act was made out.

Another petition with regard to the return of gold ornaments allegedly encrusted by the husband was filed by the wife and as per the husband’s pleadings, he was the entrusted trustee in so far as the said ornaments and money entrusted to him were concerned and the gold ornaments and money were a trust property in the hands of the husband. Hence, he was bound to account to the wife at any time when she demands.

The court below on evaluation of evidence found that the entrustment of 20 sovereigns of gold ornaments as well as `1,00,000/- by the wife to the husband stood clearly proved, hence this Court did not take a different view and confirmed the earlier Court’s decision.

Custody of Child

The Bench reiterated the settled position, that the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration in matters relating to the guardianship and custody of the child.

High Court stated that nowhere it was mentioned that the child was neglected or not taken care of by the mother, in fact, the evidence on record would show that the child had been given proper care and education by the mother.

Husband had already failed to prove the alleged adulterous act by the wife and Court below had found that considering the welfare of the child, the mother had to be appointed as the guardian.

Lastly, the Court added that the husband was free to move the Family Court to modify or vary the visitation right granted including seeking contact rights.

In view of the above discussion, the marriage between the husband and wife was dissolved.[XXX v. XXXXX, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 3229, decided on 6-8-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner:

T.M. Raman Kartha and Syama Mohan, Advocates

For the Respondents:

Anjana, R. Priya, M.B. Sandeep and B. Surjith, Advocates

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