Case BriefsHigh Courts

To marry or not to marry and if so whom, may well be a private affair. But, the freedom to break a matrimonial tie is not.

(N.G. Dastane v. S. Dastane: (1975) 2 SCC 326).

Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of C.K. Abdul Rehim and R. Narayana Pisharadi, JJ., while addressing the instant petition highlighted the observation that:

a petition for divorce under Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 can be filed only when the marriage is solemnised or deemed to be solemnised under the provisions of that Act.

Husband in the instant case has challenged the divorce decree passed by the Family Court filed by the wife.

Section 27(1)(d) of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 provides that, subject to the provisions of that Act and the Rules made thereunder, a petition for divorce may be presented to the District Court either by the husband or the wife on the ground that the respondent has treated the petitioner with cruelty.

Petitioner and respondent had solemnised their marriage under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

Primary allegation against the respondent was that he was always suspicious of the moral character of the petitioner and that he always used to make accusations of infidelity and immorality against her.

Highlight in the petition

Imputations made by the respondent on the character of the petitioner, especially the accusation of illicit relationship by her with her colleagues in the profession.

Whether the conduct of the respondent imputing infidelity and immorality on the petitioner amounts to inflicting mental cruelty?

Mental cruelty is that conduct which inflicts upon the other party such mental pain and suffering as would make it not possible for that party to live with the other (See V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat : (1994) 1 SCC 337)

Bench stated that to constitute cruelty, the conduct complained of must be something more serious that ‘ordinary wear and tear of married life’.

In the instant case, it was submitted that the respondent had publicly humiliated the petitioner by telling two strangers that his wife was sleeping with another man on the previous night.

Court noted that it was proved that the respondent had informed the colleagues of the petitioner in the hospital that she was having an affair with another doctor. Thus the respondent made the petitioner a subject of scandal in the hospital where she was working.

Due to the above-stated petitioner had to resign from the hospital on account of shame.

The above-discussed incidents proved that the respondent was in the habit of imputing infidelity and immorality on the part of his wife.

Injury to reputation is an important consideration in dealing with the question of cruelty.

In Raj v. Kavita : (2017) 14 SCC 194, Supreme Court held that, the conduct of a spouse levelling false accusations against the other spouse which would have the effect of lowering his/her reputation in the eyes of his/her peers, would be an act of cruelty.

In Narendra v. Meena: (2016) 9 SC 455, Supreme Court held that, levelling of absolutely false allegations and that too with regard to an extra-marital life, is quite serious and that can surely be a cause for mental cruelty.

With regard to the above discussions, it was observed that

Unending accusations and imputations can cause more pain and misery than physical beating.

Legal Cruelty

Bench expressed that, in a delicate human relationship like matrimony, one has to see the probabilities of the case. One has to see what are the probabilities in a case and legal cruelty has to be found out, not merely as a matter of fact, but as the effect on the mind of the complainant spouse due to the acts or omissions of the other.

Court further in line with the above discussions also stated that

Any woman with reasonable self-respect and power of endurance would find it difficult to live with such a suspicious and taunting husband.

Hence, the lower Court’s conclusion that the petitioner was treated with cruelty by the respondent and she was entitled to get divorce decree in light of the same was correct.

Special Marriage Act, 1954

Appellant’s Counsel submitted that since the marriage was solemnised in a church, the marriage solemnised under the provisions of Special Marriage Act, 1954 would not prevail and the petition for divorce filed under Section 27 of the said Act would not be maintainable.

Hence, the petition for divorce should have been filed under Section 10 of the Divorce Act, 1869.

The Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 is not applicable to territories which were comprised in the erstwhile State of Travancore – Cochin existed before the 1st November 1956.

The marriage between the parties in the instant case had taken place in an area comprised in the erstwhile Travancore State.

Therefore, the marriage between the parties in the instant case was not governed by the provisions of the above-mentioned statute.

High Court observed that when the marriage is not governed by any statutory law, the validity of the marriage has to be decided in accordance with the personal law applicable.

Further, it followed that there was no valid marriage solemnised between the parties in the church. If that be so, the marriage solemnised as per the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 is the valid marriage that existed between the parties.

Adding to the above, bench stated that had the marriage between the parties conducted in the church been valid, it was not necessary for the parties to solemnise the marriage under Chapter II of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The very fact that the marriage between the parties was solemnised by them under the provisions of Chapter II of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 would indicate that the parties were also aware and conscious of the fact that the marriage between them conducted in the church was not valid.

In Stephen Joshus v. J.D. Kapoor: 58 (1995) DLT 57,

the parties were Christians who had been married to each other under the provisions of the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872. A joint petition was preferred by them under Section 28 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 seeking the dissolution of marriage by a decree of divorce by mutual consent.

The trial court dismissed the petition on the ground that the marriage was solemnised under the Christian Marriage Act whereas divorce had been sought under the Special Marriage Act and therefore, the petition was not maintainable.

The Delhi High Court held that sub-section (2) of Section 28 of the Special Marriage Act confers jurisdiction upon the District Court to grant a decree, declaring the marriage to be dissolved only on the satisfaction that the marriage has been solemnised under that Act and therefore, upheld the dismissal of the petition by the lower court.

In Aulvin v. Chandrawati: 1974 SCC OnLine All 285,

the husband filed a petition for divorce against the wife on the ground of desertion under Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act. The parties were admittedly Christians and they were married in a Christian church according to Christian rites.

The wife contended that since the parties were Christians and had been married under the provisions of the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, the petition for divorce should have been filed under Section 10 of the Divorce Act, 1869 and the petition filed under Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act was not maintainable.

The Allahabad High Court held that the petition for divorce presented under Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 was not maintainable since the marriage between the parties was neither solemnised nor registered under that Act.

Hence, the Court held that the marriage between the petitioner and respondent in the church was not valid and marriage solemnised under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 would prevail over it. If only the marriage conducted between the parties in church was valid, the solemnisation of marriage under Chapter II of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 would have been an exercise in futility.

Therefore, the divorce petition under Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 would not be maintainable.[Kiran Kumar v. Bini Marim Chandi, 2018 SCC OnLine Ker 13579, decided on 11-10-2018]


Advocates who appeared before the Court:

For Appellant:

SRI.S.V.PREMAKUMARAN NAIR
SMT.M.BINDUDAS
SMT.P.S.ANJU
SRI.P.K.JANARDHANAN
SRI.R.T.PRADEEP

For Respondent:

SMT.MAJIDA.S
SMT.MAJIDA.S CAVEATOR
DR. SEBASTIAN CHAMPAPPILLY AMICUS CURIAE
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: C.V. Bhadang, J., addressed an application regarding the transfer of Criminal Miscellaneous Application regarding the dissolution of marriage on the ground of cruelty.

Facts pertinent to the matter are that the marriage of husband and wife ran into rough weather and led to the applicant/husband to file for divorce on the ground of cruelty, pending before the Family Court.

Whereas, the respondent/wife filed a case against the applicant for various reliefs under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which also pending before the Magistrate.

Applicant has prayed for the transfer of the said case to Family Court.

Counsels in the present matter: Abhijit D. Sarwate for the Applicant and Arvind Chavan for the Respondent.

Analysis and Decision

Bench noted that the applicant sought relief of the dissolution of marriage and permanent custody of the children. Along with said reliefs, he was also seeking partition of the property situated in Pune. Whereas, the respondent filed a Criminal M.A. under Sections 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23(2) of the D.V. Act seeking a residence order in the above-stated property, protection order and monetary reliefs in the form of monthly maintenance of Rs 1,50, 000 and compensation in the form of one-time lump sum payment of Rs 50 lakhs along with Rs 5 lakhs as costs.

Principle Issue:

Whether the Family Court can entertain the application, as framed and filed by the respondent, before the Magistrate?

To the said issue, Court responded that it has been covered by at least three decisions of the Single Judges :

Minoti Subhash Anand v. Subhash Manoharlal Anand, 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 6113

Sandip Mrinmoy Chakraborty v. Reshita Sandip Chakrabarty, 2018 SCC Online Bom 2709

Santosh Machindra Mulik v. Mohini Mithu Choudhari, Misc. C.A. No. 64 of 2019 decided on 15-11-2019

Bench added that this Court has consistently observed that in view of Section 7(2)(b) of the Family Courts Act read with Section 26 of the D.V. Act that the Family Court would get jurisdiction to entertain an application for relief under Sections 18 to 22 of the D.V. Act.

Respondent’s Counsel pointed that Section 26 of the D.V. Act speaks of the reliefs available under Section 18 to 22 and does not cover Section 17. To which the Court stated that the said contention is misconceived.

Section 17 of D.V. Act declares the right of the aggrieved person to reside in the shared household. The remedy to enforce any such right, is to be found in Section 19, which is included in Section 26 of the said Act.

Further, the Counsel for the respondent submitted that under Section 28(2) of the D.V. Act, the Magistrate is competent to follow his own procedure, which latitude is not available to the family court. Court negatived the said argument in the case of Santosh Machindra Mulik v. Mohini Mithu Choudhari, Misc. C.A. No. 64 of 2019 decided on 15-11-2019 in view of Section 10(3) of the Family Courts.

The decision of Vimlaben Ajitbhai Patel v. Vatslaben Ashokbhai Patel is also misplaced in the present context as in the said decision, Supreme Court held that, under the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act the wife not only acquires a right to be maintained but also acquires a right of residence, which is a higher right. It has been held that such a right of residence extends only to joint properties, in which the husband has a share.

The above-said judgment cannot come to the aid of the respondent.

Hence the Court allowed the application in view of the above.[Hitesh Prakashmalji Mehta v. Aashika Hitesh Mehta, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 983, decided on 28-09-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: J.R. Midha, J. laid modified directions and affidavit of assets, income and expenditure to be filed by both the parties at the very threshold of a matrimonial litigation. The Court has modified the directions and the format of affidavit already issued in earlier judgments of the Delhi High Court.

These modified directions/guidelines shall apply to all matrimonial cases including cases under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; Section 125 CrPC; Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956; Special Marriage Act, 1954; Indian Divorce Act, 1869; Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 and Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956.

Earlier directions and affidavit

The directions to be followed while dealing with matrimonial cases were first issued in Kusum Sharma (1) v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma, 2014 SCC OnLine Del 7672. Further, in exercise of the powers under Section 10(3) of the Family Courts Act, 1984 read with Sections 106 and 165 of the Evidence Act and Article 227 of the Constitution of India, the format of affidavit of assets, income and expenditure was formulated by the Court in Kusum Sharma (2) v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma, 2015 SCC OnLine Del 6793 and the directions were modified. By its judgment in Kusum Sharma (3) v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 11796, the Court modified the affidavit formulated in Kusum Sharma (2). Finally, in Kusum Sharma (4) v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 12534, the directions and the affidavit were further modified. The modified directions in Kusum Sharma (4) have been in effect since 1st January 2018.

Need for modification

The High Court has now modified the earlier affidavit in Kusum Sharma (4) to make it more comprehensive. In the earlier judgments, the High Court considered International Best Practices including 10 affidavits of assets, income and expenditure used in 5 countries. 50 more formats of affidavits of assets, income and expenditure of various countries namely USA, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Canada, Australia and South Africa had now come to the notice of the Court. Thus, the Court was of the view that its judgment in Kusum Sharma (4) warrants modification.

The Bhandari Engineers case connection

In Bhandari Engineers & Builders( P) Ltd. (1) v. Maharia Raj Joint Venture (Ex. P. 275 of 2012, dt. 5-12-2019), the Delhi High Court had formulated an affidavit of assets, income and expenditure to be filed by the judgment-debtor in execution cases. By its decision in Bhandari Engineers & Builders( P) Ltd. (2) v. Maharia Raj Joint Venture (Ex. P. 275 of 2012, dt. 5-8-2020), the Court modified and improved the format of the affidavit to make it more comprehensive and further directions were passed so that the execution cases are decided within a period of 1 year from the date of their institution. In the Court’s opinion, the affidavits formulated in Bhandari Engineers (2) are far more comprehensive than the affidavit formulated by the Court for matrimonial cases. Therefore, the Court considered it appropriate to incorporate the benevolent features of Bhandari Engineers (2) in the format of the affidavits of assets, income and expenditure in matrimonial cases.

Affidavit of Assets, Income and Expenditure in matrimonial cases

The modified affidavit of assets, income and expenditure (“Annexure A2” in the present Judgment) is very comprehensive and is useful to determine the maintenance in matrimonial litigation.

Salaried person

A salaried person is required to disclose the particulars of his employment including salary, DA, commissions, incentives, bonus, perks, perquisites, other benefits, Income tax, etc.

Self-employed person

A self-employed person is required to disclose the nature of business/profession, share in the business, net worth of the business, number of employees, annual turnover/gross receipts, gross profit, Income Tax, net income and regular monthly withdrawal/drawings from the business.

Income from other sources

The parties are further required to disclose income from other sources, namely, agricultural income, rent, interest on bank deposits and other investments, dividends, mutual funds, annuities, profit on sale of movable/immovable assets, etc.

Assets

With respect to the assets, the parties are required to disclose the particulars of the immovable properties, financial assets including bank accounts, DEMAT accounts, safety deposit lockers; investments including FDRs, stocks, shares, insurance policies, loans, foreign investments; movable assets including motor vehicles, mobiles, computer, laptop, electronic gadgets, gold, silver and diamond jewellery, etc.; intangible assets; garnishee(s)/trade receivables; corporate/business interests; disposal and parting away of properties; properties acquired by the family members, inheritance.

Standard of living and lifestyle

The affidavit requires the parties to disclose their standard of living and lifestyle, namely, credit/debit cards, membership of clubs and other associations, loyalty programmes, social media accounts, domestic helps and their wages, mode of travel in city and outside city, category of hotels, category of hospitals for medical treatment, frequency of foreign travel, frequent flyer cards, brand of mobile, wrist watch, pen, expenditure ordinarily incurred on family functions, festivals and marriage of family members, etc.

Household expenditure, etc.

The affidavit further requires the disclosure of expenditure on housing, household expenditure, maintenance of dependents, transport, medical expenditure, insurance, entertainment, holiday and vacations, litigation expenses, discharge of liabilities, etc.

 Modified Directions

The modified directions laid down by the Court in the present decision in Kusum Sharma (5) are delineated below:

(1) The Court has to ascertain the financial capacity/status of the parties for determining the maintenance and permanent alimony. A comprehensive affidavit of assets, income and expenditure of both the parties is necessary to determine their financial capacity/status.

 (2) Upon completion of the pleadings in the maintenance application, the Court shall fix the date for reconciliation and direct the parties to simultaneously file the affidavits of their assets, income and expenditure. The Court shall also direct the party seeking maintenance to produce the passbook of his/her savings bank account in which maintenance can be directly deposited/transferred by the opposite party.

(3) The Court shall simultaneously take on record the affidavit of assets, income and expenditure of both the parties. The simultaneous filing of the affidavit by the parties is very important and should be strictly adhered to. The simultaneous filing of the affidavit by the parties would avoid any undue advantage to the party who files his/her affidavit later. It is clarified that the affidavit of assets, income and expenditure is not to be filed along with the petition/application or written statement/reply.

(4) If a party is carrying on the business as proprietor of proprietorship concern/partner of a partnership concern/director of a company/member of a HUF/trustee of a trust/ member of a society or in any other form/entity, the Court may consider directing the party to file an additional affidavit with respect to the assets of the proprietorship concern/partnership concern/ company/society/HUF/Trust, as the case may be, in the format of Annexure B1 attached to Bhandari Engineers (2).

(5) In pending maintenance cases, if the parties have not already filed the affidavit of their assets, income and expenditure, the Court shall direct the parties to file their affidavit in the format of Annexure A2.

(6) If the reconciliation fails, the Court shall grant an opportunity to the parties to respond to the affidavit of the opposite party and list the maintenance application for hearing.

(7) The Courts shall ensure that the filing of the affidavits by the parties is not reduced to a mere ritual or formality. If the affidavit of the party is not in the prescribed format or is not accompanied with all the relevant documents, the Court may take the affidavit on record and grant reasonable time to the party to remove the defects/deficiencies.

(8) In appropriate cases, the Court may direct a party to file an additional affidavit relating to his assets, income and expenditure at the time of marriage and/or one year before separation and/or at the time of separation.

(9) If the party does not truly disclose all his assets and income, the opposite party is at liberty to serve the interrogatories under Order 11 CPC and/or seek production of relevant documents from the party filing the affidavit.

(10) In appropriate cases, Court may order interrogatories, discovery, inspection, production of any document and/or order any fact to be proved by affidavit under Section 30 CPC.

(11) The Court shall, thereafter, consider whether the oral examination of the party is necessary under Section 165 of the Evidence Act. If so, the Court shall proceed to examine the party to elicit the truth. The principles relating to the scope and powers of the Court under Section 165 of the Evidence Act have been summarised in Ved Parkash Kharbanda v. Vimal Bindal, 2013 SCC OnLine Del 994, which may be referred to.

(12) If the admitted income of the parties is on record, such as, in the case of a salaried employee whose salary slip is on record, the Court may fix ad-interim maintenance on the basis of the admitted documents pending filing of the affidavit of the assets, income and expenditure by both the parties. The Court may record the statement of the parties, if considered necessary for fixing the ad-interim maintenance.

(13) If any party delays in filing of the affidavit of assets, income and expenditure or the affidavit filed by a party is not in terms of these directions or a party delays the disclosure of further information/documents and the delay is causing hardship, the Court is at liberty to fix ad-interim maintenance after hearing the parties.

(14) If the statements made in affidavit of assets, income and expenditure are found to be incorrect, the Court shall consider its effect by drawing an adverse inference or imposing additional cost, while fixing the maintenance. However, an action under Section 340 CrPC is ordinarily not warranted in matrimonial litigation till the decision of the main petition unless the Court, for the reasons to be recorded, considers it expedient in the interest of justice, to deal with it earlier.

(15) At the time of issuing notice on the petition for dissolution of marriage, the Court shall consider directing the petitioner to deposit such sum, as the Court may consider appropriate for payment to the respondent towards interim litigation/part litigation expenses; except in cases, such as, divorce petition by the wife who is unable to support herself and is claiming maintenance from the respondent husband.

(16) The interim litigation expenses directed by the Court at the stage of issuing notice, does not preclude the respondent from seeking further litigation expenses incurred by the respondent at a later stage. The Court shall consider the respondent‘s claim for litigation expenses and pass an appropriate order on the merits of each case.

(17) At the time of passing a decree of divorce, the Court shall bring to the notice of the party concerned, as the case may be, that he/she can claim permanent alimony without prejudice to his/her right to challenge the decree of divorce and if the party seeks permanent alimony, at that stage, for which an oral prayer/application is sufficient, the Court shall fix the permanent alimony on the basis of the affidavits of assets, income and expenditure, after hearing both the parties. However, if the affidavits have not been filed at the stage of fixing the permanent alimony, the Court shall direct the parties to file the same before fixing the permanent alimony.

(18) In Bhandari Engineers & Builders( P) Ltd. (2) v. Maharia Raj Joint Venture (Ex. P. 275 of 2012, dt. 5-8-2020) the Delhi High Court has laid down comprehensive guidelines and has formulated affidavit of assets, income and expenditure to be filed by the judgment-debtor in execution proceedings, which may be considered in execution cases of the maintenance order apart from following the specific statutory provisions such as Sections 125 to 127 CrPC.

(19) The affidavit of assets, income and expenditure is to be treated as guidelines to determine the true financial capacity/status of the parties. The Courts are at liberty to determine the nature and extent of information/documents necessary and to direct the parties to disclose relevant information and documents to determine their financial capacity/status. The Courts are at liberty to pass appropriate directions as may be considered necessary to do complete justice between the parties and in appropriate cases, such as, the cases belonging to the lowest strata of the society or case of a litigant who is a permanently disabled/paralytic, the Court may, for reasons to be recorded, dispense with the requirement of filing of the affidavit or modify the information required.

(20) These modified directions/guidelines shall apply to all matrimonial cases including cases under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; Section 125 CrPC; Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956; Special Marriage Act, 1954; Indian Divorce Act, 1869; Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 and Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956.

(21) Matrimonial jurisdiction deserves a special attention and the maintenance applications should be decided expeditiously.

(22) The Courts below shall expedite the maintenance proceedings and shall make an endeavour to decide them within the prescribed time. The Family Courts shall send the list of all pending maintenance cases which are more than one year old, through the Principal Judge, Family Court. The list shall contain the name of the case; date of institution; number of hearings that have taken place; and the reasons for such delay. List be prepared according to the seniority, i.e. the oldest case shall be mentioned first. The Principal Judge, Family Court shall compile the lists of all Family Courts and shall send them to the Registrar General of the Delhi High Court by 31st December 2020 for being placed before the High Court.

Ancillary directions and suggestions

(a) The amici curiae submitted that the matter be kept pending for seeking feedback/comments of the Family Courts after implementation of the modified directions/guidelines. The matter is to be listed on 18th December 2020.

(b) The Court was of the view that the mandatory filing of the affidavit of assets, income and expenditure by the parties in a detailed prescribed form should be incorporated in the statutes, as in the developed countries. The Court was of the view that this suggestion be considered by the Central Government. Copy of the present judgment along with Annexure A2 is directed to be sent to Chetan Sharma, ASG, for taking up the matter with Ministry of Law and Justice.

(c) The modified directions and format of affidavit of assets, income and expenditure (Annexure A2) is directed to be uploaded on the website of the District Court (in .pdf format) to enable the lawyers/litigants to download the same.

(d) Copy of the present judgment and modified format of the affidavit of assets, income and expenditure (Annexure A2) is directed to be sent to the Registrar General of this Court who shall circulate it to the District Judge (Headquarters) and Principal Judge, Family Courts (Headquarters) for being circulated to all the concerned courts.

(e) Copy of the judgment along with the modified format of the affidavit of assets, income and expenditure (Annexures A2) is directed to be sent to the Delhi Judicial Academy to sensitise the judges about the modified directions laid down by the High Court.

(f) National Judicial Academy is reporting the best practices of the High Courts on their website (www.nja.nic.in) under the head of Practices & Initiatives of various High Courts. Copy of the present judgment along with Annexure A2 is directed to be sent to National Judicial Academy.

Note of appreciation

The Court appreciated the assistance rendered by Sunil Mittal, Senior Advocate and Anu Narula, Advocate as amici curiae. The Court also appreciated the extensive research on corresponding law in other countries by Akshay Chowdhary, Law Researcher, attached to the Delhi High Court. [Kusum Sharma (5) v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 931, decided on 6-8-2020]