Delhi High Court: Noting that, Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act intends to discourage the couples from breaking the sacred bond of marriage in haste, the Division Bench of Vipin Sanghi, ACJ and Jasmeet Singh, J., held that, a mandatory one year period granted under Section 14 of the Act, encourages couples to cool down, and give a rethink to preserve their marriage.

Appellant/wife preferred the present appeal under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 to quash and set aside the decision passed by the Family Court. Family Court had dismissed the divorce petition by the impugned Judgment which was preferred by the appellant/wife and petitioner 2/husband under Section 13B of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for dissolution of marriage by a decree of divorce by mutual consent.

The appellant and respondent hardly lived together as husband and wife and had no children born out of wedlock.

Further, it was noted that due to temperamental differences, the parties started living separately.

The parties had filed the petition under Section 13B (1) along with an application under the proviso to Section 14 of the Act, for leave to present the petition before the expiry of the cooling-off period of one year from the date of marriage.

The appellants sought to satisfy the requirements of the proviso to Section 14, by stating that there was denial of sex from both sides which led to a situation of “exceptional hardship”/ “exceptional depravity”.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Applicability of the proviso to Section 14 to a divorce under Section 13B of the Act

As per Section 13B (1) parties are provided with an option of a divorce based on mutual consent of the parties subject to the fulfilment of three conditions/grounds:

  • Parties have been living separately for a period of 1 year or more;
  • Parties have not been able to live together;
  • They have mutually agreed that the marriage should be dissolved.

The first condition specifies the period to be elapsed before filing the petition. Further, Section 13B (2) provides for another period of 6 months which must elapse before proceeding with the second motion. However, the period mentioned in sub-section (2) is not a subject matter of dispute in the present case.

In the present matter, the controversy was regarding the period of one year specified in sub-section (1). The appellant had sought the waiver of the said period by resorting to the proviso to Section 14 of the Act.

As per Section 14, no petition for divorce must be entertained by the Court before a period of 1 year from the date of marriage.

Only on two counts, the condition laid under Section 14 could be relaxed:

  • There is exceptional hardship
  • There is exceptional depravity

The Supreme Court’s decision in Amardeep Singh v. Harveen Kaur, (2017) 8 SCC 746, was relied on to contend that the period under Section 13B(1) is merely directory, and not mandatory.

Bench agreed with the view taken by this Court in Sankalp Singh v. Prarthana Chandra, 2013 SCC OnLine Del 855, that the period of one year stipulated in Section 13B (1) may be waived provided a case of “exceptional hardship” or “ exceptional depravity” is made out before the Court.

Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act provides a window for reconsideration and reconciliation and is an acknowledgement that temperamental differences between the parties could be addressed with time and must not become a reason for breaking off marriage.

High Court observed that,

The mandatory one year period granted under Section 14 of the Act, encourages couples to cool down, and give a rethink to preserve their marriage.

Adding to the above analysis, Court stated that the proviso to Section 14 is applicable to petitions filed for divorce, equally under Section 13 and under Section 13B.

A divorce on the ground of “mutual consent” is premised on freewill or free consent of both the parties. Formation of free consent is not expected to be an instantaneous process, and the requirement of minimum period ensures that the consent is backed by patient thought and consideration of all the pros and cons of the relationship.

Whether non-indulgence of a married couple in sexual activity, owing to temperamental difference, could be regarded as so “exceptional” so as to attract immediate dissolution of the marriage, without even waiting for 1 year period which contemplates an opportunity of reconciliation?

Answering the above question in negative, the Court expressed that, if there are serious, temporal or behavioral issues between a married couple, it is nothing but expected that they would not be maintaining a healthy conjugal relationship.

A mere incompatible marital relationship, or one which has irreconcilable differences due to temporal or behavioral differences would not, in itself, lead to the causing of exceptional depravity by either of the parties to the other. 

Mere denial of sex by one, or both the parties to the other, cannot be described as an act of exceptional depravity.

The denial of sex by one spouse to the other, or by both of them to each other may certainly constitute “hardship”, but it cannot be said to be “exceptional hardship” under Section 14(1) of HMA. 

High Court held that denial of cohabitation in a marriage cannot be regarded as “exceptional hardship” or “exceptional depravity”, it could not call for waiver of a mandatory period of one year which is to be waived as a matter of exception, and not as a matter of rule.

Additionally, the Court remarked that denial of a conjugal relationship, or non-consummation due to temperamental/behavioural differences can only be aground for divorce, under cruelty.

Hence, the appeal was rejected and Family Court’s order was upheld. [Rishu Aggarwal v. Mohit Goyal, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 1089, decided on 18-4-2022]

Advocates before the Court:

For the appellant:

Mr. Rajesh Aggarwal, Mr. Mridul Aggarwal & Ms. Deeksha Aggarwal, Advocates (both for appellant as well as respondent).

For the respondent:

Mr. Rajesh Aggarwal, Mr. Mridul Aggarwal & Ms. Deeksha Aggarwal, Advocates (both for appellant as well as respondent).

Mr. Preetesh Kapur, Amicus Curiae.

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