Family Courts can’t grant divorce in case the marriage breaks down
The Delhi High Court recently provided a clarifying judgment regarding the grounds for granting divorce in family courts, particularly in cases involving Hindu parties. In a case (D v. A) before the court, the issue at hand centered on whether a family court could grant divorce based on the assertion of an “irretrievable breakdown of marriage.” The division bench, comprising Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Vikas Mahajan, delivered a crucial ruling emphasizing that family courts must adhere strictly to the provisions governing divorce as outlined in the Hindu Marriage Act.
The High Court emphasized that the Hindu Marriage Act does not recognize an “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” as a valid ground for divorce. Consequently, the family court’s judgment, which granted divorce on this ground, among others, was set aside by the division bench. The High Court clarified that the authority to grant divorce on the grounds of an irretrievable breakdown of marriage is vested exclusively in the Supreme Court of India, as outlined in Article 142 of the Constitution.
The Court was addressing an appeal filed by a woman against a family court’s decision in 2018 to grant her husband’s request for divorce, citing grounds of cruelty and desertion. The couple had married in 2002 and had a daughter in 2007, after which they began living separately.
The High Court noted that the family court had granted divorce based on the allegation of denial of a conjugal relationship, despite the vagueness and lack of specificity in these allegations. Furthermore, it was revealed that the husband had acknowledged having enjoyed conjugal relations on numerous occasions (30-35 times), which negated the claim of complete denial of conjugal rights. The birth of their daughter also contradicted the allegation of denial.
Regarding the issue of marriage breakdown, the Court observed that the wife had consistently expressed her willingness to live with her husband, while he had repeatedly declined. The High Court concluded that the wife was not at fault, and it was the husband who had deserted her. Therefore, it was deemed unfair to allow the husband to seek divorce on the grounds of a marriage breakdown.
The High Court also pointed out that the family court had erred in granting divorce based solely on the couple’s 11 years of separation, as such a power was not conferred upon the family court. Even the Supreme Court, when exercising its discretionary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, considers various factors beyond the duration of separation.
In conclusion, the division bench allowed the woman’s appeal against the grant of divorce, stating that the family court had exceeded its jurisdiction. Advocates Lohit Ganguly, Ajay Kumar, and Mohit Khatri represented the appellant (wife), while Advocates DK Pandey and Vikram Panwar represented the defendant (husband).