Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Mental Cruelty Definition:

Wanton, malicious or unnecessary infliction of pain or suffering upon the feelings or emotions of another.

Related Terms: Personal Indignities, Divorce, Cruelty, Physical Cruelty

Grounds for divorce in many jurisdictions.

For example, Canada's Divorce Act, §8(2)(b) permits a divorce if:

"... the spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has, since celebration of the marriage ... treated the other spouse with ... mental cruelty of such a kind as to render intolerable the continued cohabitation of the spouses."

In Knoll, Justice Shroeder of the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote:

mental cruelty"As used in ordinary parlance cruelty signifies a disposition to inflict suffering; to delight in or exhibit indifference to the pain or misery of others; mercilessness or hard-heartedness as exhibited in action. If in the marriage relationship one spouse by his conduct causes wanton, malicious or unnecessary infliction of pain or suffering upon the body, the feelings or emotions of the other, his conduct may well constitute cruelty which will entitle a petitioner to dissolution of the marriage if in the Court's opinion, it amounts to ... mental cruelty of such a kind as to render intolerable the continued cohabitation of the spouses.

"Care must be exercised in applying the standard set forth ... that conduct relied upon to establish cruelty is not a trivial act, but one of a grave and weighty nature, and not merely conduct which can be characterized as little more than a manifestation of incompatibility of temperament between the spouses. The whole matrimonial relations must be considered especially if the cruelty consists of reproaches, complaints, accusations, or constant carping criticism. A question most relevant for consideration is the effect of the conduct complained of upon the mind of the affected spouse. The determination of what constitutes cruelty in a given case must, in the final analysis, depend upon the circumstances of particular case having due regard to the physical and mental condition of the parties, their character and their attitude towards the marriage relationship."


In Murray v Murray, Justice McQuaid of Prince Edward Island (Canada), wrote:

"... in order to establish the ground of mental cruelty, there must be some positive form of conduct, deliberately directed by the respondent toward the petitioner, which has as its object the intent to injure the mind or feelings, in some grave and weighty matter, or alternatively, in the absence of such positive intent, a careless disregard of the consequences of conduct which would predictably have the same effect."

In Bligh v Bligh, Justice Dechene of the Alberta Supreme Court, in 1974, noted that the standard was a subjective one (emphasis added):

"Cruelty is a question of fact in each case ... whether this conduct by this man to this woman or vice versa is cruelty."


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