In the year 2010 petitioner Anuradha Samir Vennangot and respondent Mohandas Samir Vennangot tied the knot after being acquainted since 2006. The marriage of the petitioner with the respondent was solemnized according to Hindu Vedic Rites in 2010. In 2013 some misunderstandings developed between the two parties and the petitioner left the house and went on to live with her parents. In 2015 the respondent husband filed for dissolution of marriage under Section 13(1)(1a) of the Hindu Marriage Act on the grounds that the wife had committed various acts of cruelty during the course of the wedding. The petitioner wife was living in Hyderabad so an application was moved to transfer the suit to the family court in Hyderabad. Both the counsels requested to transfer the case to Supreme Court Mediation Centre to reach at a settlement by mutual consent. A settlement was reached where the respondent agreed to pay 12, 50,000 to the petitioner as full and final payment of alimony. Henceforth an application was filed under section 13(B) for divorce under mutual consent. On 17.11.2015 the petitioner wife filed for adjournment of the case to enable her to file additional documents which would support her claim that she is suffering from breast cancer, a life threatening disease. For breast cancer she required immediate treatment, which included 6-8 cycles of surgery and chemotherapy, which according to the doctors could not be delayed. Each cycle would cost about 50, 000, bringing the treatment cost to around 4 lakh rupees, which the petitioner was in need of urgently.
The issues framed by the court were-
- Whether it was justified to grant a degree of divorce and approve the settlement reached by the mediation centre in a situation where one party is in a position to dominate the other, where one party is suffering from a life threatening disease and is in no position to afford to waste time in negotiating a better settlement. It was to be examined if this was a case of ‘undue influence’ and the settlement was unfair to the petitioner.
- Whether ‘pre-existing duty doctrine’ could be applied in the situation, and the settlement agreed could be treated as consideration or not. It was the duty of the husband to take care of the medical expenses of his wife, and if at this stage it could be regarded as his duty or not.
- Section 16 of Indian Contract Act, 1872
This section pertains to ‘Undue Influence’ in a contract. Free consent is a pre requisite of a valid contract, and the consent must not be obtained by undue influence, which is defined as an influence by one party over the another party where the former is in a dominating and more powerful position and can influence the will of the weaker party and obtain an unfair advantage. In such a case a contract becomes voidable at the choice of the aggrieved party.
- Pre-existing Duty Doctrine “The performance of what one is already bound to do, either by general law or by a specific obligation to the other party, is not a good consideration for a promise; because such performance is no legal burden to the promise, but rather relives him of a duty. Neither is the promise of such performance a consideration, since it adds nothing to the obligation already existing.”
- Section 13(B) of Indian Marriage Act, 1955This section deals with divorce between two parties by mutual consent, consent free of force, fraud or influence.
- Section 2(d) of Indian Contract Act,1872This section defines consideration, when at the desire of the promise the promisor does or abstain from doing or promises to do or abstain from doing an act, it is called consideration.
The consideration must be real and lawful.
The court examined the facts and the situation of both the parties in the case. The issue of whether the consent given by the petitioner was free and without any influence was looked into. To constitute a valid contract, free consent is an essential element. In this case, the time when the petitioner agreed to the settlement by the mediation committee was very crucial. She had been diagnosed with a life threatening disease, and was in immediate need of a huge amount of money for her treatments, of which she had no other source than her husband. In this scenario, the respondent is in a dominating position, where he can influence the will of the ailing petitioner. She was solely dependent to receive the alimony money as soon as possible, and was not able to negotiate a settlement which was to the best of her interests, and in such a case where one party unduly influences the other party, section 16 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 renders the contract voidable.
According to the Indian Marriage Act, 1955, it was a pre-existing duty of the husband to care of his wife’s well-being and health. In this instance, it was his duty to take care of all the expenses of her treatment and ensure that she does not face any hindrance in the entire process due to shortage of funds. Since it was already his pre-existing duty, this money could not be taken as valid consideration as per section 2(d) of Indian Contract Act, 1872. Hence the amount which was agreed to be paid was invalid consideration, which makes the contract void.
The hon’ble Supreme Court held that as per sections 16 and 2(d) of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 the settlement reached at by the mediation center was invalid and unfair to the petitioner. Thereby the court directed the respondent to pay a sum of 5 lakh rupees for the initial treatment of the petitioner wife and set the further hearings and formation of a new settlement contract after 6 months, or when the wife is free of the disease, whichever is earlier.
 Section 14, Indian Contract Act 1872
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