Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage-Another Ground for Divorce

D.O. No. 6(3)/155/2009-LC (LS) 30th March, 2009

Dear Dr. Bhardwaj Ji,


Another Ground for Divorce

I am forwarding herewith the 217

Commission of India on the above subject.

Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 provides grounds

for presentation of a petition for divorce. Section 27 of the Special

Marriage Act, 1954 similarly provides grounds for grant of divorce in

the case of a marriage solemnized under the Act. However, the said

Acts do not provide “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” as a

ground for divorce. The Law Commission of India in its 71

titled “The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 – Irretrievable Breakdown of

Marriage as a Ground of Divorce” recommended amendments in

the Hindu Marriage Act to make irretrievable breakdown of marriage

as a new ground for granting divorce among the Hindus. Recently,

the Supreme Court also in

1675) recommended to the Union of India to seriously consider

bringing an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to

Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage –th Report of the Lawst ReportNaveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli (AIR 2006 SC6

incorporate irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for the

grant of divorce.

In view of the above, the Law Commission of India

suo motutook up the study of the subject. The Commission examined the

extant legislations as well as a number of judgments of the Supreme

Court and High Courts on the subject and is of the view that

“irretrievable breakdown of marriage” should be incorporated as

another ground for granting divorce under the provisions of the

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The

Court before granting a decree for divorce on the ground that the

marriage has irretrievably broken down should also examine whether

adequate financial arrangements have been made for the parties and


The Commission has accordingly made its recommendations in

this Report.

With warm regards,

Yours sincerely,

(Dr. AR. Lakshmanan)

Dr. H. R. Bhardwaj,

Union Minister for Law and Justice,

Government of India

Shastri Bhawan,

New Delhi-110 001.


Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage –

Another Ground for Divorce

Table of Contents









. INTRODUCTION1.1 Whenever the question of inclusion of irretrievable breakdown

of marriage as a ground for divorce is mooted, the opponents argue

that “divorce by mutual consent” introduced in the Hindu Marriage

Act in 1976 more than covers the situation. It is important to note

that “mutual consent” requires the consent of both the parties and if

one or the other does not cooperate, the said ground is not available.

‘Irretrievable breakdown of marriage’, on the other hand, is a ground

which the Court can examine and if the Court, on the facts of the

case, comes to the conclusion that the marriage cannot be

repaired/saved, divorce can be granted. The grant of divorce is not

dependent on the volition of the parties but on the Court coming to

the conclusion, on the facts pleaded, that the marriage has

irretrievably broken down.


sound marriage is tolerance, adjustment and respecting one

another. Tolerance to each other’s fault to a certain bearable

extent has to be inherent in every marriage. Petty quibbles,

trifling differences should not be exaggerated and magnified to

destroy what is said to have been made in heaven. All

Irretrievable breakdown of marriage– The foundation of a9

quarrels must be weighed from that point of view in determining

what constitutes cruelty in each particular case and always

keeping in view the physical and mental conditions of the

parties, their character and social status. A too technical and

hypersensitive approach would be counter-productive to the

institution of marriage. The Courts do not have to deal with

ideal husbands and ideal wives. It has to deal with particular

man and woman before it.

11.3 In

recommended to the Union of India to seriously consider bringing an

amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to incorporate

irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce in the

following words:

“Before we part with this case, on the consideration of the

totality of facts, this Court would like to recommend the Union

of India to seriously consider bringing an amendment in the

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to incorporate irretrievable

breakdown of marriage as a ground for the grant of divorce. A

copy of this judgment be sent to the Secretary, Ministry of Law

& Justice, Department of Legal Affairs, Government of India for

taking appropriate steps”

Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli2 the Supreme Court31.4 Earlier, in

Court observed:

Ms. Jorden Diengdeh v. S. S. Chopra4 the Supreme1

Bharat Law House, 2008), page 292.

Mayne’s Treatise on Hindu Law & Usage (16th Ed.) Revised by Justice Ranganath Misra (New Delhi:2

AIR 2006 SC 1675.3

Ibid., para 96.4

AIR 1985 SC 935.10

“It appears to be necessary to introduce irretrievable

breakdown of marriage and mutual consent as grounds of

divorce in all cases.…We suggest that the time has come for

the intervention of the legislature in those matters to provide for

a uniform code of marriage and divorce and to provide by law

for a way out of the unhappy situation in which couples like the

present have found themselves.”

51.5 It is pertinent to notice that the Law Commission of India has

already submitted a very comprehensive 71

breakdown of marriage as a ground of divorce. The matter had been

taken up by the Commission as a result of a reference made by the

Government of India. The Law Commission under the Chairmanship

of Shri Justice H. R. Khanna presented its Report on April 7, 1978.

The Report considered the suggestion and analyzed the same in

extenso. Before embarking upon further action on the suggestion that

irretrievable breakdown of marriage should be made as a ground for

divorce, the Law Commission considered it appropriate to invite

views on the matter by issuing a brief questionnaire. The

Commission in its 71

breakdown of marriage as a ground of divorce and also examined the

question as to how exactly to incorporate it into the Act and also

further examined the question whether the introduction of such a

ground should be coupled with any safeguards. The Commission

also in Chapter II of the said Report considered present law under

the Hindu Marriage Act, merits and demerits of the theory of

irretrievable breakdown of marriage in Chapter IV and retention of

st Report on irretrievablest Report have accepted in principle irretrievable5

Ibid., para 7.11

other grounds of divorce in Chapter V. In Chapter VI the Commission

also considered the requirement of living apart and also suggested

many safeguards like welfare of children, hardship and

recommended amendments to Sections 21A, 23(1)(a) and also

recommended insertion of new sections 13C, 13D and 13E.

1.6 In the light of the above, the Law Commission

up the study on the subject.

suo motu tookII

. JUDICIAL VIEW/SUGGESTIONS2.1 A law of divorce based mainly on fault is inadequate to deal

with a broken marriage. Under the fault theory, guilt has to be

proved; divorce Courts are presented with concrete instances of

human behaviour as bring the institution of marriage into disrepute.

6Once the marriage has broken down beyond repair, it would be

unrealistic for the law not to take notice of that fact, and it would be

harmful to society and injurious to the interest of the parties. Where

there has been a long period of continuous separation, it may fairly

be surmised that the matrimonial bond is beyond repair. The

marriage becomes a fiction, though supported by a legal tie, by

refusing to sever that tie, the law in such cases does not serve the

sanctity of marriage; on the contrary, it shows scant regard for the

feelings and emotions of the parties. Public interest demands not

only that the married status should, as long as possible, and

whenever possible, be maintained, but where a marriage has been


71st Report of the Law Commission of India.12

wrecked beyond the hope of salvage, public interest lies in the

recognition of that fact. Since there is no acceptable way in which a

spouse can be compelled to resume life with the consort, nothing is

gained by trying to keep the parties tied for ever to a marriage that in

fact has ceased to exist. Human life has a short span and situations

causing misery cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. A halt has

to be called at some stage. Law cannot turn a blind eye to such

situations, nor can it decline to give adequate response to the

necessities arising therefrom.

7 The Supreme Court in Naveen Kohlivs.

consider bringing an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to

incorporate irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for


Neelu Kohli8 recommended to the Union of India to seriously2.2 The irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not a ground for divorce

by itself. But while scrutinizing the evidence on record to determine

whether the grounds on which divorce is sought are made out, the

circumstances can be taken into consideration. No divorce can be granted

on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage if the party seeking

divorce on this ground is himself or herself at fault. The decree of divorce

on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down can be

granted in those cases where both the parties have levelled such allegations

against each other that the marriage appears to be practically dead and the

parties cannot live together. The power of the Court to grant divorce on the

ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage should be exercised with


Supra note 1, pages 292 – 293.8

Supra note 2.13

much care and caution in exceptional circumstances only in the interest of

both the parties.

92.3 In

Court held:

“In our considered opinion, the marriage between the parties

can not be dissolved by the trial Court or even by the High

Court only on the ground of marriage having been irretrievably

broken down, in the absence of one or more grounds as

contemplated under section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act,


Geeta Mullick v. Brojo Gopal Mullick10 the Calcutta High112.4 The concept of irretrievable breakdown of marriage cannot be

used as magic formula to obtain a decree for divorce where grounds

for divorce are not proved.

2.5 In

“Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is not a ground

for divorce by itself. But while scrutinizing the evidence on

record to determine whether the ground(s) alleged is

made out and in determining the relief to be granted, the

said circumstance can certainly be borne in mind.”

V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat12 the Supreme Court held :139

Supra note 1, page 293.10

AIR 2003 Cal. 321.11

Ibid., para 7.12

AIR 1994 SC 710.13

Ibid., para 23.14


Jyotsna Chakraborty

ground as mentioned in the Hindu Marriage Act or the Special

Marriage Act, court cannot grant divorce on the mere ground of

irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

2.7 In

Supreme Court held:

“…the marriage between the appellant and the respondent has

irretrievably broken down and that there was no possibility of

reconciliation, we in exercise of our powers under Art. 142 of

the Constitution of India hereby direct that the marriage

between the appellant and the respondent shall stand

dissolved by a decree of divorce.”

The Calcutta High Court in Tapan Kumar Chakraborty v.14 held that in a petition for divorce on aKanchan Devi v. Pramod Kumar Mittal15, however, the162.8 There is no use of keeping two persons tied by the matrimonial

relationship when they cannot live peacefully. Where wedlock has become

a deadlock, since parties are living separately, and after marriage the wife

has lived only for a few months in the matrimonial home, wife having made

allegations of cruelty and desertion against the husband and husband having

made counter-allegations against her, the court in

Krishna vs. Som Nath17held that marriage is irretrievably broken and it is in the interest of justice

that decree of divorce be granted so that both the parties can live in peace.

When the court finds in facts as well as from talks of resettlement or

reconciliation between parties that there was no possibility of reunion


AIR 1997 Cal. 134.15

AIR 1996 SC 3192.16

Ibid., para 6.17

(1996) DMC 667 (P&H).15

between husband and wife and refusal of decree of divorce would only

prolong the agonies of the spouses, it can dissolve the marriage on this


other for the last 19 years and there is no chance of settlement between the

parties a decree for divorce can be granted.

consummation of marriage, wife being adverse to cohabitation, wife

disobeyed instructions of the court to undergo medical examination to prove

that marriage had not consummated, there was indecent behaviour of wife to

her in-laws reflecting her mental imbalance, and the parties have been living

separately for a period of 16 years without any serious attempt for

reconciliation, a decree dissolving the marriage would be proper.

18 Where the husband and the wife are living separately from each19 Where there was no202.9


dissolved only on the averments made by one of the parties

that as the marriage between them has broken down, no useful

purpose would be served to keep it alive. The legislature, in its

wisdom, despite observation of the Supreme Court has not

thought it proper to provide for dissolution of the marriage on

such averments. There may be cases where it is found that as

the marriage has become dead on account of contributory acts

of commission and omission of the parties, no useful purpose

would be served by keeping such marriage alive. The sanctity

of marriage cannot be left at the whims of one of the annoying


The Supreme Court in Savitri Pandey v. Prem Chandra21 held that marriage between the parties cannot be18

Ashok v. Rupa, 1996 (2) HLR 512 (Guj).19

Shankar v. Puspita, AIR 2005 Jhar. 92.20

Rita v. Trilokesh, AIR 2007 Gau.122.21

AIR 2002 SC 591.16

2.10 In

Vinita Saxena and her husband Pankaj Pandit was dissolved by an

order of the Supreme Court. The marriage between the parties

lasted only for five months. Both of them were living separately for

over 13 years. Marriage also was not consummated. Wife filed a

petition for the dissolution of marriage on the ground of physical and

mental cruelty and insanity on the part of the husband. Trial court

however dismissed the petition. High Court also dismissed the

appeal despite the failure of the husband to appear before the court.

Allowing the appeal of the wife, a division bench of the Supreme

Court speaking through Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan ( as he then

was ) held that the orders of the courts below had resulted in grave

miscarriage of justice to the wife who had been constrained into living

with a dead relationship for over 13 years and that the fact situation

clearly showed that the husband and wife can never ever stay as

husband and wife and the wife’s stay with the respondent husband

would be injurious to her health. Accordingly, a decree of divorce

was granted in favour of the wife against the husband. The Court

held as follows:

“36. As to what constitute the required mental cruelty for

purposes of the said provision, will not depend upon the

numerical count of such incidents or only on the continuous

course of such conduct but really go by the intensity, gravity

and stigmatic impact of it when meted out even once and the

deleterious effect of it on the mental attitude, necessary for

maintaining a conducive matrimonial home.

Vinita Saxena v. Pankaj Pandit22, the marriage between22

JT 2006 (3) SC 587.17

37. If the taunts, complaints and reproaches are of ordinary

nature only, the court perhaps need consider the further

question as to whether their continuance or persistence over a

period of time render, what normally would, otherwise, not be

so serious an act to be so injurious and painful as to make the

spouse charged with them genuinely and reasonably conclude

that the maintenance of matrimonial home is not possible any



44. Spouses owe rights and duties each to the other and in

their relationship they must act reasonably. In every case

where cruelty exists it is possible to say that the spouse at fault

has been unreasonable. The list of cruelty, therefore, should

be reach of the duty to act reasonably, whether in omission or

commission, causing injury to health. Such a list avoids

imputing an intention where in fact none may exist. Further all

such matters are foresight, desires, wishes, intention, motives,

perception, obtuseness, persistence and indifference would

remain relevant but merely as matter of evidence bearing upon

the requirement to act reasonably or as aggravation of the

matters charged.



Humane aspects which this Court should consider:

The appellant was 24 years of age when she got married.

was compelled to leave the matrimonial home.

The marriage lasted for four to five months only when she18

the respondent was not in a position to fulfil the matrimonial


The marriage between the parties was not consummated as

years have passed they have never seen each other.

The parties have been living separately since 1993. 13

Both the parties have crossed the point of no return.

A workable solution is certainly not possible.

together forgetting their past as a bad dream.

Parties at this stage cannot reconcile themselves and live


Parties have been fighting the legal battle from the year

conclusion that the appellant and the respondent can never

ever stay as husband and wife and the wife’s stay with the

respondent is injurious to her health.

The situation between the parties would lead to a irrefutable

according to the appellant, is not gainfully employed


The appellant has done her Ph.D. The respondent,

during the trial, the respondent till date has neither appeared

before the trial court nor before the High Court.

50. The facts and circumstances of the case as well as all

aspects pertain to humanity and life would give sufficient

cogent reasons for us to allow the appeal and relieve the

appellant from shackles and chain of the respondent and let

her live her own life, if nothing less but like a human being.”

As a matter of fact, after leaving his deposition incomplete19

2.11 In

to the 71

Breakdown of Marriage” with approval as follows:

Samar Ghosh vs Jaya Ghosh23 the Supreme Court referredst Report of the Law Commission of India on “Irretrievable“90. We have examined and referred to the cases from the various

countries. We find strong basic similarity in adjudication of cases

relating to mental cruelty in matrimonial matters. Now, we deem it

appropriate to deal with the 71st Report of the Law Commission of

India on “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage”.

91. The 71

the concept of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. This Report was

submitted to the Government on 7th April, 1978. In this Report, it is

mentioned that during last 20 years or so, and now it would be around

50 years, a very important question has engaged the attention of

lawyers, social scientists and men of affairs, should the grant of

divorce be based on the fault of the party, or should it be based on the

breakdown of the marriage? The former is known as the matrimonial

offence theory or fault theory. The latter has come to be known as the

breakdown theory. It would be relevant to recapitulate

recommendation of the said Report.

92. In the Report, it is mentioned that the germ of the breakdown

theory, so far as Commonwealth countries are concerned, may be

found in the legislative and judicial developments during a much

earlier period. The (New Zealand) Divorce and Matrimonial Causes

Amendment Act, 1920, included for the first time the provision that a

separation agreement for three years or more was a ground for

making a petition to the court for divorce and the court was given a

discretion (without guidelines) whether to grant the divorce or not.

The discretion conferred by this statute was exercised in a case

st Report of the Law Commission of India briefly dealt withLodder

in a passage which has now become classic, enunciated the

breakdown principle in these words:

v. Lodder (1921 New Zealand Law Reports 786). Salmond J.,23

(2007) 4 SCC 511.20

‘The Legislature must, I think, be taken to have intended

that separation for three years is to be accepted by this

Court, as prima facie a good ground for divorce. When

the matrimonial relation has for that period ceased to

exist de facto, it should, unless there are special reasons

to the contrary, cease to exist de jure also. In general, it

is not in the interests of the parties or in the interest of the

public that a man and woman should remain bound

together as husband and wife in law when for a lengthy

period they have ceased to be such in fact. In the case of

such a separation the essential purposes of marriage

have been frustrated, and its further continuance is in

general not merely useless but mischievous.’

93. In the said Report, it is mentioned that restricting the ground of

divorce to a particular offence or matrimonial disability, causes

injustice in those cases where the situation is such that although none

of the parties is at fault, or the fault is of such a nature that the parties

to the marriage do not want to divulge it, yet such a situation has

arisen in which the marriage cannot survive. The marriage has all the

external appearances of marriage, but none in reality. As is often put

pithily, the marriage is merely a shell out of which the substance is

gone. In such circumstances, it is stated, there is hardly any utility in

maintaining the marriage as a facade, when the emotional and other

bonds which are of the essence of marriage have disappeared.

94. It is also mentioned in the Report that in case the marriage has

ceased to exist in substance and in reality, there is no reason for

denying divorce, then the parties alone can decide whether their

mutual relationship provides the fulfilment which they seek. Divorce

should be seen as a solution and an escape route out of a difficult

situation. Such divorce is unconcerned with the wrongs of the past,

but is concerned with bringing the parties and the children to terms

with the new situation and developments by working out the most

satisfactory basis upon which they may regulate their relationship in

the changed circumstances.

95. Once the parties have separated and the separation has continued

for a sufficient length of time and one of them has presented a


petition for divorce, it can well be presumed that the marriage has

broken down. The court, no doubt, should seriously make an

endeavour to reconcile the parties; yet, if it is found that the

breakdown is irreparable, then divorce should not be withheld. The

consequences of preservation in law of the unworkable marriage

which has long ceased to be effective are bound to be a source of

greater misery for the parties.”

2.12 Similarly, in

Supreme Court while referring to its earlier decision in

Sanghamitra Ghosh vs Kajal Kumar Ghosh24 theAshok Hurra vRupa Bipin Zaveri

aforesaid 71

2.13 As stated earlier, the recent decision of the Apex Court in the

case of

immediate amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act to incorporate

‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as a ground for grant of divorce.

The Court in that case was dealing with a case where the parties

were living separately for ten years. There were, during this period,

many proceedings between the parties, mostly by the wife.

Allegations of misconduct were made on both sides, maintenance

was demanded and paid and the proceedings lingered on causing

deep anxiety and frustration to both sides. The husband filed for

divorce on the ground available – cruelty. The Trial Court granted

him relief but the High Court turned down the divorce petition on the

ground that the conduct of the wife did not fall within the parameters

of ‘cruelty’ as defined in various judgments. The husband was back

25, also reproduced some excerpts from thest Report of the Law Commission.Naveen Kohli vs. Neelu Kohli26 fully establishes the need for24

(2007) 2 SCC 220.25

(1997) 4 SCC 226.26

Supra note 2.22

to square one. On appeal, the Supreme Court granted him relief.

This was a classic case of consent being withheld by a spouse just

for harassing the other spouse. The Court recommended to the

Union of India to seriously consider bringing an amendment in the

Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 to incorporate ‘irretrievable breakdown of

marriage’ as a ground for grant of divorce.

2.14 It would also be in the fitness of things that the Special

Marriage Act, 1954, which deals with the civil marriages, is also

considered for an amendment on similar lines.


. RECOMMENDATION3.1 It is, therefore, suggested that immediate action be taken to

introduce an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the

Special Marriage Act, 1954 for inclusion of ‘irretrievable breakdown

of marriage’ as another ground for grant of divorce.


3.2 The amendment may also provide that the court before

granting a decree for divorce on the ground that the marriage has

irretrievably broken down should also examine whether adequate

financial arrangements have been made for the parties and children.

3.3 We recommend accordingly.

(Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan)


(Prof. Dr. Tahir Mahmood) (Dr. Brahm A. Agrawal)

Member Member-Secretary


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