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No divorce for "irretrievable breakdown" of marriage: SC

Last updated on: March 08, 2009 17:33 IST
In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that a Hindu couple cannot be granted divorce on the ground that there was "irretrievable breakdown"of the marriage.

The ruling assumes significance, as so far all courts including the Supreme Court, had granted divorce to couples on the ground that marriage between the two had irretrievably broken down. Interpreting Section 13 of the Hindu Marriages Act which provides for grant of divorce, a bench of Justices Markandeya Katju and V S Sirpurkar said there were several grounds for granting a decree of divorces like "cruelty," "adultery","desertion," etc, but no such ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage has been mentioned for granting divorce."

The bench passed the order while dismissing the appeal of Vishnu Dutt Sharma who sought divorce from his wife Manju Sharma on the ground that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. Though the husband had sought divorce, the wife was unwilling for the same. Vishnu Dutt Sharma filed the appeal in the apex court after the matrimonial court and the Delhi High Court both dismissed his plea.

In the apex court the husband claimed that he was entitled to divorce and cited a number of earlier rulings of the apex court wherein it had granted divorce to couples on the ground of "irretrievable breakdown" of marriage.

Rejecting the contention, the bench said a bare reading of Section 13 of the Act was "crystal clear" that no such ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is provided by the legislature for granting a decree of divorce. "This court cannot add such a ground to Section 13 of the Act as that would be amending the Act, which is a function of the legislature," the bench observed.

It disagreed with the husband's plea that since the apex court itself had earlier granted divorce to couples on the ground, there was no reason why he should be deprived of asimilar relief. "In our opinion, those cases have not taken into consideration the legal position which we have mentioned above, and hence they are not precedents. A mere direction of the court without considering the legal position is not a precedent. If we grant divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown, then we shall by judicial verdict be adding a clause to Section 13 of the Act to the effect that irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is also a ground for divorce," the bench observed.

According to the bench it is for the legislature to suitably amend the provisions of the Hindu Marriages Act to incorporate "irretrievable breakdown" of marriage as an additional ground for grant of divorce. "In our opinion, this can only be done by the legislature and not by the court. It is for the Parliament to enact or amend the law and not for the court. Hence we do not find force in the submission of the learned counsel for the appellant (husband)," the bench observed while dismissing the appeal.
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