"Income cannot be a factor for desertion"

It's wilful neglect of the husband, says Supreme Court

Legal Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has held that if a woman deserts her husband on the only ground that his income is less than what she earns, it will be a valid reason for the husband to claim divorce.

A Bench consisting of Justice Arun Kumar and Justice A.K. Mathur upheld a Gujarat High Court order confirming a decree for divorce. The Bench said that total abandonment of marriage could not be justified on the ground of monetary consideration alone.

Condition after marriage

At the time of her marriage in November 1992 Geeta Jagdish Mangtani was working as teacher, earning Rs. 7,000 a month, in Bhuj while her husband was employed in Mumbai on a salary of Rs. 1,400. In June 1993, she refused to leave her teacher's job to join her husband in Mumbai. She put a condition that unless he earned at least Rs 5,000 a month, she would not join him.

A son was born to the couple in November 1993 after she left her matrimonial home.

Her husband sought divorce on the ground of desertion and the trial court granted it.

On appeal, the High Court confirmed this order after its patch-up efforts failed as the woman insisted that her husband earn more.

No intention to be together

The High Court said it was satisfied that both husband and wife had no intention of living together and decided to break off. The present special leave petition by Ms. Mangtani was directed against this order. She contended that since "no fault divorce" was not recognised under the Hindu Marriage Act, the High Court erred in granting divorce on the ground that the marriage had broken down. The apex court Bench did not accept her argument that she had a reasonable cause for not joining her husband. The judges pointed out that the parties knew prior to their marriage how much money they were earning. However, there was no attempt on the part of the woman to stay with her husband.

"In the facts and circumstances of the case, it cannot be said that this desertion on the part of the wife was with a reasonable cause. It amounted to wilful neglect of the husband by the wife as monetary consideration alone could not be considered a reasonable cause to desert," the Bench said and dismissed her appeal.

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