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When a Marriage Cannot Work: Takeaways From the Supreme Court

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against the husband's request to use its broad annulment authority under Article 142 in cases when the wife wants to save the marriage. Marriage is not a casual occurrence in India, the bench said.

The Supreme Court of India recently delivered a landmark judgement on the constitutionality of adultery. The five-judge bench unanimously decriminalised adultery, holding that it is not punishable under the law. The judgement is a pointer to the changing mores of our times and the evolving idea of what constitutes a ‘just’ society.

While the judgement has generated a great deal of public discourse, one aspect that needs adequate attention is its discussion on marriage and its discontent. In particular, the court observed that when a marriage cannot work, it is not always possible to save it through criminal prosecution.

It is essential to understand the importance of this observation, especially in light of the rising incidence of divorce in our country. In this article, we look at the judgement in detail and explore its implications for those struggling in their marriages.

Verdict of Supreme Court Regarding Breakdown of Marriages

A couple cannot be forced to cohabitate in a marriage that has failed and cannot succeed, the Supreme Court of India said in a thorough ruling on September 13. 

This comment was made after a 20-year legal battle in which the court ended a marriage based on harshness under the Hindu Marriage Act and irretrievable collapse of the marriage following the court’s authority under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution.

The reasons for the irretrievable breakdown were thoroughly covered in the decision rendered by Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy. The bench cited a statement made in a 1978 Law Commission report that such marriages are nothing more than a shell with no remaining substance as the basis for describing the ground.

Overview of Recent Supreme Court Judgments

The Supreme Court of India recently passed judgments in two significant cases related to marriage and divorce. In both cases, the court ruled that a union could not continue if it were against the “will of God”.

This means couples in India that if they cannot resolve their differences, they now have a way out through the Court system. They can approach the court and seek a divorce because the marriage is not working for them. This is a significant step, allowing couples to end their marriages without resorting to violence or prolonged legal battles.

Reasons for Marriage Breakdown

There can be several reasons why marriage breakdowns. Some of the more common causes are listed below.

  1. Infidelity: When one spouse has an affair, it can be a significant catalyst for a marriage breakdown.
  2. Lack of communication: If spouses do not communicate with each other, misunderstandings and resentment can build up over time, eventually leading to a breakdown in the marriage.
  3. Financial problems: Money can be a significant source of tension and conflict in a marriage. When spouses cannot agree on how to manage their finances, it can lead to marital strife.
  4. Parenting issues: When couples disagree on how to raise their children, it can create tension and conflict in the marriage.
  5. Stress: Stress from work or other external factors can take its toll on a marriage and eventually lead to its breakdown.

After divorce, women struggle to maintain their social acceptability.

The court addressed the justification frequently used to challenge such a divorce decision in this ruling. It was said that because marriage is seen differently in different cultures and is treated as a sacrament under Hindu law, it is challenging for women to maintain their social standing after a divorce. 

According to Hindu law, marriage is sacramental and is meant to be an everlasting union of two individuals. Given the elevated status of weddings as a social organisation in India, the general public does not accept divorce.

Rights and Responsibilities of Couples in Marriage Breakdown Cases

So what happens when a marriage breakdown case goes to the Supreme Court? In a nutshell, the court looks at three main areas:

  • The rights of the parties involved
  • The responsibilities of the parties involved
  • Any other ancillary matters

The court considers a wide range of factors when making its decisions, like the couple’s ages, the duration of the wedlock, their contributions to the marriage, and their respective incomes. It also considers any children involved and their best interests.

In its judgments, the court has reiterated that both parties have rights and responsibilities in a marriage breakdown case. It is important to remember that these judgments are not just about divorce but apply to couples living separately but have yet to divorce.

Changes to Child Custody and Maintenance Awards

The Supreme Court has recently declared that child support and custody provisions should be changed in conjunction with societal norms and evolving familial relationships. If you’re facing a divorce, it’s essential to understand how these changes can affect your rights as a parent.

For example, proving that one party is not fit to take on sole custody of the child can mean an allowance for joint custody with the other parent. This could mean sharing financial responsibility or having the other parent participate in childcare decisions. Additionally, courts have declared that the non-custodial parent must bear the financial burden of maintaining themself and their children. The court has increased this amount for divorced couples, so if you’re looking for financial support from your partner, you may get a higher award than previously expected.

These are just some ways that recent Supreme Court judgments have changed what you should know about marriage dissolution cases. It’s essential to stay aware of these changes as they may affect your rights or obligations during a divorce case.

Guidelines for Future Divorce

It’s also important to note that the recent judgments of the Supreme Court have also laid down specific guidelines for divorce proceedings in the future.

These guidelines require all parties to prove their marriage is irretrievably broken. This means that all decisions must be tested objectively, and there must be clear evidence of unanimity between both parties to show that reconciliation is impossible.

Furthermore, the court has also clarified that though mutual consent may speed up the divorce process, it is not necessary for any such decree. In the future, each party must bear the onus of providing compelling evidence that they cannot continue with the marriage and that living together or reconciling with each other is no longer feasible.


In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s recent judgments on when a marriage cannot work provide some critical takeaways for couples facing difficulties in their relationships. First and foremost, it is essential to remember that every wedding is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when a marriage cannot work. However, the Supreme Court’s rulings make it clear that there are certain circumstances in which a marriage may be considered irretrievably broken down and that couples in such situations should seek legal advice to determine their best course of action. Contact Vakilsearch for any further details.

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