Mansimran Kaur 

New Delhi, April 19, 2022: Upholding the order of the Family Court rejecting the application of the parties filed under the proviso to Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Delhi High Court has observed that the denial of consummation of marriage does not result in exceptional depravity or exceptional hardship and therefore the parties in the present case were not entitled to the benefit of exception under Section 14 of the Act.

The Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh analyzed the literal interpretations of the expressions stated under Section 14 of the Act and by doing so, rejected the present appeal preferred by the appellant/ petitioner for seeking divorce before the expiry of one year from the date of marriage, as the case was not falling within the ambit of Section 14 of the Act. 

The appellant in the present case instituted an appeal under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 to quash and set aside the impugned judgment dated October 16, 2021. The Family Court in its impugned judgment dismissed the petition filed by the appellant/petitioner on the ground that the same was filed before the expiry of year of time from the date of marriage. 

The factual background was that the appellant and the respondent got married on April 4, 2021 as per the Hindu ceremonies. However, soon after marriage  the martial  relations between the appellant and the respondent got strained and from April 14, 2021 they started living separately. They both parted their ways due to temperamental issues as stated by the parents and relatives. However even after making constant efforts to reconcile the parties, the same was not successful. Eventually, they decided to end the marital ties. On September 16, 2021 they executed an MOU wherein it was stated that they have decided to settle their disputes in an amicable manner and therefore were resorting for mutual divorce in accordance with the provisions of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. 

Pursuant to the above stated MOU, a joint petition was instituted  by the appellant and the respondent under Section 13 (B) (1) along with an application under Section 14 of the Act with a purpose of seeking the exemption from the  mandatory one year period that a couple has to undergo in the hope of reconciliation before filing the petition for divorce. 

In the said application it was stated that the applicants are resorting to Section 14 of the Act as they fulfill the requirements  to invoke the said Section. It was further stated that there was denial of sex from both the sides which led to a situation of exceptional hardship/ exceptional depravity and therefore they should be granted divoce before the expiry of one year of term from the date of the marriage. It was further prayed that the applicants had no intention to reconcile and did not wish to further interact with each other. 

The Family Court however, did not approve the application by observing that the exceptions stated under Section 14 of the Act were not established in the present case. It was submitted that the case of exceptional depravity/ exceptional hardship was found missing in the present case, and therefore the parties were not entitled to the benefit of the exemption. Aggrieved by the same, the applicant/ petitioner approached the present Court. 

The Counsel for the appellant stated that since the appellant and the respondent developed strained relations soon after their marriage and decided to settle their differences amicably and even after constant efforts were not able to resume their marital relations was a sufficient ground to accept their application under Section 14, as no hope of reconciliation and denial of physical relation between the parties was a representation of exceptional hardship and exceptional depravity. In support of the same, the Counsel cited the case of  Shivani Yadav v. Amit Yadav wherein it was held by the Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that as the couple staying together only for two days was sufficient ground to allow their application filed under Section 14 for waiving off the mandatory period of one year.

 To support the above stated submissions, the Counsel was also of the view that comeppling the appellant and the respondent to sustain the marital bond will further cause agony to both and will certainly be a cause of creating a situation that turns out to be exceptionally hard for them. 

The opinion of the Amicus Curiae was that seeking divorce under Section 14 of the Act on account of exceptional hardship  or exceptional depravity was distinct from the ground of seeking divorce under cruelty and therefore denial of conjugal relationship cannot tantamount to exceptional depravity.

This Court after considering the submissions delved  into the question of applicability of of Section 14 in a petition seeking divorce under Section 13B.

The Court cited the judgment of the Bombay High Court in Miten v. UOI, wherein it was  held that Section 13B is clear and not ambiguous. The same is mandatory, and cannot be treated as procedural. Thus, it cannot be molded by the Court in exercise of its judicial discretion.The court further observed that the statutory requirement of minimum period is sine qua non to the filing of the petition and, in absence thereof, the petition would be incomplete and the court would be devoid of jurisdiction to entertain the same.

The Court further analyzed the linguistic  meanings of the expressions – exceptional hardship/ exceptional depravity. After analyzing the same,the Court was of the view that denial of cohabitation in marriage does not result in exceptional hardship or depravity as the same means a situation wherein the party is suffering from a situation which is not ordinary. Also, the hardship is of extreme and exceptional nature of such high gravity that the  parties cannot even for once think of restitution their conjugal ties. However, in the present case there was not a single incident of extremity mentioned by either party. The appellant and the respondent simply started living separately and refused to consummate their marriage, therefore the same did  not fall within the literal interpretations of the expressions under Section 14 of the Act, the Court added.

The Bench said,”The denial of sex, or non-consummation of the marriage in the present case is a voluntary act of abstinence by the parties. Consequently, denial of conjugal relationship, or non-consummation due to temperamental/ behavioral differences can only be a ground for divorce, under cruelty.”

It was further opined that is a settled proposition of law that denial of sex is a ground to seek divorce on the basis of cruelty.  The Bench noted that Section 14 of the Act was incorporated  with the objective of saving the institution of marriage by granting the period of one year to restitue their conjugal ties and to give a fresh start. Objective of Section 13 was also reiterated by submitting that Section 13 states the grounds for divroce and holds the objective of letting the couples in the society meet the ends of justice. 

Thus, in the light of above observations, the Court rejected the appeal and upheld the impugned judgment of the Family Court rejecting the application of the parties filed under Section 14 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Further direction was issued to approach the competent Court, after the expiry of one year of separation. 

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