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Man can’t desert wife in her difficult times: Supreme Court

New Delhi:Men have primary duty to take care of wives during difficult times and the promise to help ailing spouse is not a valid consideration for divorce settlement, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Holding that man has “pre-existing duty” to help and protect wife, a bench of justices M Y Eqbal and C Nagappan, refused to grant divorce, even after mutual consent, to the estranged husband, saying his wife was suffering from breast cancer and hence, her consent to settle was driven by the earnest need for costly treatment. “It is a duty of the respondent-husband to take care of the health and safety of the petitioner-wife. In the instant case also it is a primary duty of the husband only to provide facilities for the treatment of the petitioner. This is a pre-existing duty of the husband, provided the husband has sufficient means and he is diligently doing his part in taking care of her.

“In the present case, by the settlement agreement the respondent-husband is promising to do something which he is already duty bound, and it is not a valid consideration for the settlement,” it said. Referring to the fact that Hindu marriage is “holy” and “sacred” and she should not be left in her difficulties.

“Hindu marriage is a sacred and holy union of the husband and the wife by virtue of which the wife is completely transplanted in the household of her husband and takes a new birth. It is a combination of bone to bone and flesh to flesh. “To a Hindu wife her husband is her God and her life becomes one of selfless service and profound dedication to her husband. She not only shares the life and love, but the joys and sorrows, the troubles and tribulation of her husband and becomes an integral part of her husband’s life and activities,” the bench said.

Instead of granting divorce in the present case, the court transferred the plea to Hyderabad family court with a rider that the husband will have to pay Rs five lakh, out of total settlement money of Rs 12.5 lakh, immediately and directed that the case be taken up after she is free from the disease.

The bench, which refused to grant divorce by mutual consent to the couple who got married in April 2010 and later in 2013 decided to get divorce, observed that the wife had agreed for a settlement of dissolution of marriage, in order to save her life by getting money.

On perusal of the application for mutual settlement by the couple, the apex court found that the “wife agreed for divorce by mutual consent on the condition that the husband will pay her Rs 12,50,000 as full and final settlement.

“The wife is suffering from such a disease which has compelled her to agree for the mutual consent divorce. The fact that wife is ready for the mutual consent divorce after knowing about her medical condition raises a suspicion in our mind as to whether the consent obtained from the wife is free as required by law for granting the decree of divorce by mutual consent,” the bench observed.

It further said that “from the study of Hindu Law and different religious books, it cannot be disputed that after marriage law enjoins the corresponding duty on the husband to look after her comforts and not only to provide her food and clothes but to protect her from all calamities and to take care of her health and safety.”