The Supreme Court on Tuesday stated that since the institution of marriage is considered to be a ‘pious’ union in Indian society, an easy formula for the grant of relief of divorce under Article 142 on the ground of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ may not always be desirable.
The Supreme Court held that it can exercise its discretion under the powers granted to it under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution for dissolving a marriage on the ground of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’, even when one of the involved parties opposes the dissolution. However, the Court also stated that such discretion must be exercised with great caution.
A division bench composed of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Bela M Trivedi was hearing a plea for divorce by an 89 year old husband from his wife aged about 82 years. The wife had refused to divorce him and expressed her desire to continue in the marriage, thus the Court refused to grant the divorce (Dr. Nirmal Singh Panesar V. Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Panesar).
Should Divorce be allowed merely on grounds of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’?
The question posed before the court was whether the “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” should necessarily result in the dissolution of marriage under Article 142, when the same is not a ground for dissolution of marriage under the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act.
The Court taking precedence from the recent decision by a constitution bench in the case of Shilpa Shailesh vs. Varun Sreenivasan (2023), which held that the power under Article 142 should be exercised with great caution in order to do ‘complete justice’.
The Supreme Court’s stance in the matter
Bearing in mind the facts of the case, the Court denied a decree of divorce as the wife had expressed her willingness to stay in the marriage and she also informed the court that she did not wish to die with the label of being a ‘divorced woman’.
The Supreme Court was of the opinion that the respondent has maintained the sanctity of the relationship since 1963 and has raised three children all these years, despite the fact that the appellant had exhibited complete hostility towards them.
Advocate Madhurima Tatia, representing the wife argued that the respondent is still willing to make the marriage work and does not wish to leave her husband alone at this stage of life. She has also clearly expressed her sentiments of not wanting to die with the stigma of being a “divorced woman” attached to her. In modern society, it may not constitute a stigma but here they were concerned with the respondent’s own sentiments. The court therefore ruled in favour of the wife Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Panesar.
According to the bench, allowing divorce in such a situation would amount to injustice towards the wife and permitting divorce on mere grounds of “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” is not sufficient and hence the court refused to grant a decree of divorce as appealed for by the husband, who was represented by Advocate Vipin Gogia.