Divorced woman held mentally ill gets relief in apex court

By Rana Ajit, IANS,

New Delhi : A woman who was divorced by her husband on the ground of being a schizophrenic has been absolved of the taint of lunacy by the Supreme Court, which frowned at a family court for taking contrary stands on her mental state on two different occasions.

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The family court in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad town first declared her a schizophrenic and allowed her husband to divorce her. Later, the same court while hearing their daughter’s custody matter burdened the woman with her upkeep saying it was difficult to believe that she was a schizophrenic.

Ironically, however, the Supreme Court has now asked the same family court to assess her husband’s financial status to help it decide the alimony for Suvarnalata, a native of Aurangabad.

Suvarnalata’s marital tribulations began soon after she gave birth to her daughter Naveli in early 1999. Her husband Mohan Anandrao Deshmukh moved a local family court in July 1999 seeking divorce from her alleging that she suffered from mental illness.

The family court accepted Deshmukh’s allegations and allowed him in early 2001 to dump his wife.

But while deciding the question of Naveli’s custody in December 2002, the same family court’s judge, also a woman, ruled that Deshmukh had tricked her into granting him divorce from his wife, Suvarnalata’s counsel Nandita Rao told the apex court.

Rao quoted the family court judge as ruling that “her earlier order in the divorce proceedings had been obtained on misrepresentation of facts which amounted to fraudulent behaviour on the part of the husband.”

“The Aurangabad’s family court judge also observed that after seeing Suvarnalata in court at the time of trial, it was difficult for her to believe that she was schizophrenic,” noted the apex court bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph.

And, this time around, ruling out that Suvarnalata was schizophrenic, the same judge rejected her husband’s contention that he had better credentials to look after Naveli and saddled Suvarnalata with the responsibility to bring up her daughter, the apex court said.

Suvarnalata’s counsel argued in apex court that the family court judge allowed the husband to go scot-free. It never launched a prosecution against Deshmukh despite ruling that he had obtained the decree of divorce from her virtually through perjury and false evidence, Rao said.

Happily bearing the burden of bringing up her daughter, Suvarnalata, in turn, waged a lone legal battle against the family court’s decree of divorce to her husband, she said.

Suvarnalata appealed in the Bombay High Court against the family court decree, which declared her schizophrenic and allowed her husband to dump her. First she went in appeal before a single judge bench and then a division bench. But both rejected her plea in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Finally, she came to the apex court. In the meantime, taking benefit of the family court’s divorce decree, duly endorsed by the high court, Suvarnalata’s husband got married again.

Suvarnalata subsequently amended her prayer in the apex court saying that though she would not like to disturb her husband’s second marriage, she would surely like the apex court to examine if she was really a lunatic.

She also sought a one-time alimony of Rs.75 lakh from her ex-husband contending that he was well off and she needed this amount to ensure a decent living for herself as well as for her daughter.

The apex court April 5 this year partly allowed her plea. Relying upon the family court judge’s observation, which said that it was hard for her to believe that Suvarnalata was a schizophrenic, the apex court absolved her of the taint of lunacy.

And to decide the financial status of her ex-husband, the apex court referred the matter back to the family court.