Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage – Another Ground for Divorce











Forwarded  to   the  Union   Minister   for   Law   and Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India  by  Dr.  Justice  AR.  Lakshmanan,  Chairman, Law Commission of India, on  the   30th           day  of March, 2009.




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16th     October,  2006,  issued  by the  Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Legal Affairs, New Delhi.





The Law Commission consists of the Chairman, the Member-Secretary, one full-time Member and seven part-time Members.








Hon’ble Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan






Dr. Brahm A. Agrawal



Full-time Member



Prof. Dr. Tahir Mahmood



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Dr. (Mrs.) Devinder Kumari Raheja Dr. K. N. Chandrasekharan  Pillai Prof. (Mrs.) Lakshmi Jambholkar Smt. Kirti Singh

Shri Justice I. Venkatanarayana

Shri O.P. Sharma

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




Dear Dr. Bhardwaj Ji,



Subject: Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage – Another Ground for Divorce



I    am    forwarding     herewith    the    217th      Report    of    the    Law


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 71st    Report 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 Naveen Kohli v. Neelu Kohli (AIR 2006 SC

1675) 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 the


grant of divorce.




In view of the above, the Law Commission of India suo motu took  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 children.



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


INTRODUCTION                                            9-














RECOMMENDATION                                23




















1.1     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.



1.2        Irretrievable  breakdown  of  marriage–  The foundation  of  a 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




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.1



1.3     In    Naveen   Kohli    v.    Neelu    Kohli2           the    Supreme     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 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”3



1.4     Earlier, in Ms. Jorden Diengdeh v.  S. S. Chopra4  the Supreme


Court observed:


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

Delhi: Bharat Law House, 2008),  page 292.

2             AIR   2006   SC


3             Ibid., para


4               AIR  1985 SC 935.

“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.”5

1.5     It is pertinent to notice that the Law Commission of India has already submitted a very comprehensive 71st   Report on irretrievable 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 71st   Report have accepted in principle irretrievable 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

5          Ibid., para



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 suo motu took up the study on the subject.


2.1     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.6

Once  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

 6            71st       Report of the Law Commission  of India.

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 Kohli vs. Neelu Kohli8    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.

2.2     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

 7             Supra note 1, pages 292 –


8          Supra note


much care and caution in exceptional circumstances only in the interest of both the parties.9

2.3     In  Geeta  Mullick  v.  Brojo  Gopal  Mullick10     the Calcutta  High 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,



2.4     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 V. Bhagat v. D. Bhagat12  the Supreme Court held : “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.”13

9                 Supra note 1, page


10           AIR  2003  Cal.


11       Ibid.,  para


12           AIR  1994  SC





13          Ibid.,  para


2.6        The Calcutta  High  Court  in  Tapan  Kumar  Chakraborty  v.

Jyotsna Chakraborty14     held that in a petition for divorce on a 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   Kanchan  Devi  v.  Pramod  Kumar  Mittal15,  however,  the

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.”16

2.8     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 Nath17 held 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

 14           AIR  1997  Cal.


15             AIR   1996   SC


16        Ibid.,  para


17               (1996)   DMC   667 (P&H).

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 ground.18          Where the husband and the wife are living separately from each other for the last 19 years and there is no chance of settlement between the parties                        a  decree  for  divorce  can  be  granted.19               Where  there  was  no 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.20

 2.9        The  Supreme  Court    in    Savitri  Pandey   v.    Prem    Chandra Pandey21          held that  marriage  between  the parties  cannot  be 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 spouses.

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

19        Shankar  v. Puspita,  AIR 2005 Jhar.

21    AIR 2002 SC 591


20              Rita   v.   Trilokesh,   AIR   2007


2.10 In  Vinita  Saxena  v.  Pankaj  Pandit22, the  marriage  between 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.

22              JT 2006 (3) SC


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 longer.


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.


49.     Humane aspects which this Court should consider:

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

–         The marriage lasted for four to five months only when she was compelled to leave the matrimonial home. The marriage between the parties was not consummated as the respondent was not in a position to fulfil the matrimonial obligation.

–         The parties  have been  living separately since  1993.      13 years have passed they have never seen each other. Both the parties have crossed the point of no return. A workable solution is certainly not possible. Parties at this stage cannot reconcile themselves and live together forgetting their past as a bad dream. Parties  have been fighting  the  legal  battle  from the year 1994.-         The situation between the parties would lead to a irrefutable 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  appellant    has  done  her  Ph.D.         The    respondent, according    to    the    appellant,    is    not    gainfully    employed anywhere.

–         As a matter of fact, after leaving his deposition incomplete 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.”2.11 In Samar Ghosh vs Jaya Ghosh23   the Supreme Court referred to the 71st    Report  of the Law Commission of India on “Irretrievable Breakdown  of Marriage” with approval as follows:

 “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 71st  Report of the Law Commission of India briefly dealt with 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 Lodder v. Lodder (1921 New Zealand Law Reports 786). Salmond J., in  a     passage   which       has           now                    become      classic,    enunciated  the breakdown principle in these words:

 23               (2007)  4 SCC

511. ‘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


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  Sanghamitra Ghosh vs Kajal Kumar Ghosh24    the Supreme Court while referring to its earlier decision in  Ashok Hurra v Rupa  Bipin  Zaveri25,  also           reproduced  some         excerpts  from           the

aforesaid 71st Report of the Law Commission.

2.13 As stated earlier, the recent decision of the Apex Court in the case of Naveen Kohli vs. Neelu Kohli26   fully establishes the need for 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 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.


 3.1    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) Chairman

 (Prof. Dr. Tahir Mahmood)                      (Dr. Brahm A. Agrawal) Member                                                                Member-Secretary

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