Mental Illness no ground of Divorce: Supreme Court

Subhro Bhattacharya

In a verdict which is set to affect millions of petitions seeking divorce on grounds of mental illness, the Supreme Court on September 17th, 2013 held that temporary illness including schizophrenia is no ground of divorce under Section 13(iii) of the Hindu Marriage act,1955. The verdict in which the Apex Court underlined the sanctity of Marriage under Hindu Law arose out of a Special Leave Petition in the matter of Dr. Kollam Chnadra Shekhar v.  Dr. Kollam Padma Laatha ((Civil Appeal No.8264 of 2013)). The appellant a doctor by profession had accused his wife of suffering from schizophrenia and obtained a decree of divorce from the trial court under Section 13(1)(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act,1955.

However the respondent also a doctor by profession obtained a decree for restitution of conjugal rights under Section 9 of the aforesaid act when a division bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court overturned the trial court judgment ((, hence the appeal in the Supreme Court. Quoting Sigmund Freud and Descartes the bench of Hon’le Justices G.S.Singhvi and V.Gopala Gowda went in great length to dwelve on what constitute unsoundness of mind. Declaring the respondent as mentally fit the apex court equated mental illness with other diseases like hypertension and diabetes and held it to be manageable and treatable with proper medication. The apex court further went on to say that even if a spouse suffers from schizophrenia it can be no ground for deserting her, rather one should be supportive and ensure that she gets proper medication and treatment.

Underpinning the sanctity of a marriage under Hindu law the Hon’le Court quoted the Vedas and held that if mere mental illness is made a ground for dissolution of a marriage, it would affect the very rubric of our society. Taking note of the welfare of the only child of the couple and medical reports which declared the respondent to be fit, the Hon’le Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the order of the Division Bench of The AndhraPradesh High Court. In a society which is increasingly seeing a rise in mental related illness and misuse of Section 13 (1)(iii) by errant husbands this verdict of the Hon’le Supreme Court will go a long way in securing the rights of women and in their broader empowerment.

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