Is a spouse’s refusal to recognize and treat mental illness grounds for divorce? Supreme Court to consider

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to consider the legal question of whether a spouse’s refusal to recognize a medical illness and seek medical treatment for it can constitute a “cruelty” ground for divorce.

The bench of Judges Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose issued an opinion in a special leave application filed against the order of the Kerala High Court dated September 3, 2021, which granted a divorce judgment on the grounds that the wife had refused to acknowledge her alleged mental illness and to seek treatment for it. The husband had alleged that the wife suffered from paranoid schizophrenia but refused to seek treatment accepting the disease.

Aggrieved by the High Court order, the wife applied to the Supreme Court. By issuing a recorded opinion within 6 weeks, the bench stayed the enforcement of the High Court order.

“Disruptive behavior disorder becomes ‘cruelty’ to be sought as grounds for divorce, not for the reason that it is attributed to the disease from which one suffers, but for the reason, one refuses to recognize the disease and does not did not want to treat the disease”, had observed the High Court.

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“The High Court, in the judgment impugned, respectfully completely ignores the proportion and although noting the fact that the Applicant (the wife) admittedly does not suffer from any mental disorder, grants a judgment of divorce on the ground that the Applicant had refused to acknowledge her alleged mental illness and to seek treatment. The impugned judgment, in these circumstances, is perverse, arbitrary and unjustified”, the woman’s petition stated.

It was also argued that her educational background as well as her professional experience explained that she had never suffered from a mental disorder or even presented any symptoms and that this was only an allegation that her husband attributed to her. .

Arguing that the impugned judgment was perverse, arbitrary and unjustified, the plea said,

It is a consistent position of the law that a spouse’s illness cannot be grounds for granting a judgment of divorce, even if it results in unusual behavior not expected in normal married life. The very fact that a person, who is accused of a mental disorder such as “paranoid schizophrenia”, as is unfairly sought to be done in the case of the applicant, namely the wife, who categorically denies suffering from a such mental disorder, is in itself an act of cruelty and mental harassment inflicted by the husband.”

The wife alleged that the husband and his in-laws from the very beginning of the marriage used to harass her and used to allege that she was mentally unstable. She stressed that she takes good care of the two daughters born in marriage and maintains good relations with the neighbors.

The SLP was filed by Lawyer Vipin Nair.

It may be noted that in a recent decision in a similar case, the Kerala High Court reiterated that refusal to undertake treatment for mental illness can be grounds for divorce.

Case title: X v Y| Special authorization to appeal (C) No(s).2994/2022

Click here to read/download the order

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