Cruelty Law and Legal Definition

In the context of divorce law, cruelty may be grounds for a divorce. Whether or not a spouse has committed the act of cruelty against the other spouse is determined on a case-by-case basis. Cruelty may consist of physical violence; other conduct that endangers the life or safety of the complaining spouse; abusive or derogatory language; neglect; humiliation; threats of violence, etc. A single act of cruelty must generally be extreme to be sufficient for filing a divorce complaint. In cases where the parties have not lived separately for the required period, often grounds will be alleged alternatively as irreconcilable differences or mental cruelty.

Physical cruelty would be, for example, where one spouse assaults or threatens the other spouse on one or more occasions, so as to reasonably cause the other spouse to fear bodily harm. Mental cruelty could include a pattern of verbal and other mental abuse. To determine whether the acts amount to cruelty as a grounds for a divorce, the court will consider whether the acts of cruelty were isolated. If the acts were few and far between, the court is less likely to grant a cruelty-based divorce. Second, the court will determine if the acts were so extreme that they endangered the health of the innocent spouse. Mere rudeness is insufficient to be awarded a fault-based divorce. In order to be awarded the divorce grounded on physical cruelty, the innocent spouse usually must corroborate his or her testimony of cruelty and must show a connection between the cruel acts and the breakdown of the marriage.