The institution of marriage is built on mutual trust, love, and understanding. However, there are instances where certain unforeseen circumstances, such as severe mental disorders, make it challenging for couples to maintain a harmonious marital relationship. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, recognizing the complexities of such situations, has provided grounds for divorce under Section 13. One of these grounds is the mental disorder of a spouse.
1. The Statutory Provision
Section 13(1)(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, states that a marriage may be dissolved by a decree of divorce if the other party:
“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.”
2. Key Elements and Interpretation
- Unsound Mind: This term refers to a state where a person is incapable of understanding the nature and consequences of his or her actions.
- Mental Disorder: It encompasses both mental illness as well as recurring mental abnormality that affects the normal behavior or faculties of a person. The Act does not merely rely on the label of the disease but on its severity and its impact on marital life.
- Continuous or Intermittent: The disorder doesn’t have to be constant. Even if there are periods of normalcy interspersed with bouts of mental disturbance, it can be a ground for divorce.
- Cannot Reasonably Be Expected To Live Together: The emphasis here is on the reasonable expectation of the petitioner. It is subjective and depends on the severity of the condition, its impact on marital life, and the ability of the petitioner to cope.
3. Burden of Proof
The petitioner has the responsibility to prove that the other spouse suffers from a mental disorder to such an extent that continuing the marital relationship is not reasonable. This is generally done through medical evidence, expert testimonies from psychiatrists, and documentation of the spouse’s behavior.
4. Judicial Interpretations
Over the years, the judiciary has provided clearer interpretations of this provision:
- In “Ram Narayan v. Rameshwari”, the court held that if a spouse develops some mental disorder after marriage which makes cohabitation impossible, it can be a ground for divorce.
- In “Smt. Sudha v. Hari Shankar”, the wife’s consistent aggressive behavior without provocation, inability to maintain social norms, and her refusal for medical checkup led the court to grant a divorce to the husband.
5. Ethical Considerations
While the law provides relief for those living with partners with severe mental disorders, ethical concerns emerge. It’s crucial to ensure that the provision isn’t misused as an easy exit strategy from marital duties. Compassion and support should be the primary response, and divorce should be considered only when the severity of the condition truly disrupts marital harmony.
Mental disorders, owing to their profound impact on personal and marital life, have been recognized as grounds for divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. However, they demand a thorough assessment, concrete evidence, and a judicious approach, given the sensitive nature of the issue.