Adultery as a ground for divorce
Adultery may be defined as the act of a married person having sexual intercourse with a person of opposite gender other than the wife or husband of the person. Personal laws all around the world condemn adultery and it is considered as a ground for divorce or separation. Even the Hindu Shastric laws which made no provisions for divorce, condemned adultery in unequivocal terms. Under the present Indian personal laws, adultery is laid down as one of the grounds for divorce or judicial separation.
The essential ingredients in an offence of adultery are that:
There should be an act of sexual intercourse outside the marriage, and
That such intercourse should be voluntary.
There has been a disparity between various judgments of the Courts regarding the extent to which circumstantial evidence can be termed as proof of adultery. Such that in the case of Banchanidde v Kamladas, the Odisha High Court held that the circumstances should be so compelling that the only irresistible conclusion can be adultery.
Hindu Laws On adultery as a ground for divorc
Adultery as a ground for divorce has been defined under Section 13(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, as the act of having voluntary sexual intercourse with a person who is not the spouse of the respondent. Hence, it becomes essential for the petitioner to prove that she/he was indeed married to the said respondent and that the respondent had voluntary sexual intercourse with a person other than him/her.
The spouse who wants to file a divorce petition has to substantiate the statements with proper evidence. The Indian Courts time and again had stressed that adultery has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. However, in the recent years, the Supreme Court is seen to be deviating away from such notions stating that proving beyond reasonable doubt is essential in criminal cases and not in civil cases. In the case of Dastane v. Dastane, the apex court held that there certainly is no necessity of the presence of proof beyond reasonable doubt where personal relationships are involved especially those between a husband and wife.
In the case of Ammini E.J. v. Union of India, the Kerala High Court held that the husband is in a favorable position with respect to it being a ground for divorce because the wife has to prove adultery along with some other aggravating circumstances and hence it is discriminatory towards the wife. The Court also ruled that the wife may file for divorce only on the grounds of adultery, without any other qualifying offence such as cruelty or desertion.
Before the enactment of the Marriage Laws, 1976, adultery was treated as a conduct of grave immorality. It was a thing of grave shame irrespective of the gender, however it wasn’t a ground for divorce. After the 1976 Amendment, the grounds for judicial separation and divorce are the same and it is a mark of great development in the Hindu Personal Laws.
Section 10 of the Hindu marriage Act, 1995 defines adultery as a ground for judicial separation. The provision states that the parties to a marriage may file for a decree of judicial separation under any of the grounds mentioned in Section 13(1), irrespective of the marriage being solemnized after or before the commencement of this act.
Muslim Laws on Adultery as a ground of Divorce
Adultery, according to the Quran, is a severely punishable offence and is prescribed to be dealt with by way of stoning to death. But this is not the case in most democracies where the constitutions call for humane treatment of its citizens. The husband has every right to divorce his wife if he is capable of proving that his wife had an adulterous relationship. But the wife may only in circumstances of false accusations can either ask her husband to retract the accusations or divorce him under lian. However, if the husband retracts the claims and apologizes for the same in a prescribed manner, the wife’s claims subsists. In the case of Tufail Ahmad v. Jamila Khatun, the Allahabad Court has further explained that only such wives who are not guilty of adultery may use this as a ground for divorce.
The Dissolution of Muslim Marriage, 1939 provides little reprise as it states in Section 2(viii)(b) that where a man leads an infamous life or associates himself with women of evil repute, she can sue him on grounds of cruelty. This is as close as the prevalent Muslim law goes to the concept of adultery.
Special Marriage Act
The Special Marriage Act,1954 recognizes adultery and states that if the respondent has after the solemnization of the marriage, had voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than his/her spouse, it is a valid ground for divorce. The Act has recognized adultery itself as an offence and no additional offence has to be proved in order to obtain a decree of divorce or judicial separation. The present position on the concept of burden of proof has also been relaxed under the Special Marriages Act, 1954.
In the case of Sari v. Kalyan, it was stated that adultery may be proven by a preponderance of evidence and need not be proved beyond reasonable doubt as prima facie evidence as to the act of adultery may not be present and circumstantial evidence will have to suffice.