Legal Definition and Related Resources of Cruelty

Meaning of Cruelty

The intentional and malicious infliction of physical suffering upon living creatures and particularly human beings. The wanton, malicious and unnecessary infliction of pain upon the body, or the feelings and emotions of human beings. Abusive treatment ; inhumanity; outrage. In the divorce context, the term implies wantonness or intent to inflict suffering or conduct of such character as to seriously affect or impair the health of the spouse so as to render it unsafe or improper to cohabit with the defendant . Rios v Rios, 311 N. Y.S.2d 664, 34 A.D.2d325.

Cruelty Alternative Definition

Legal cruelty is such conduct on the part of one spouse as vrill endanger the life, limb, or health of the other, or create a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. 36 Ga. 817. And may consist of duress or threats tending to injury to health, 39 L. J. P. & M. 28; 21 L. T. 564; or terrifying a wife into immorality, 35 L. J. P. & M. 37; publicly outraging a wife’s feelings by insulting language and assaulting her, even though no personal injury be inflicted, 31 L. J. P. & M. 159; a violently intended, but futile, assault, or spitting on a wife, 1 Hagg. Ecc. Supp. 776; habitual insult and violence of temper, inducing quarrels and producing physical suflfering, 34 L. J. P. & M. 112; knowingly or recklessly imparting a venereal disease, L. R. 1 P. & D. 233; Id. 46; 35 L. J. P. & M. 13; as to cutaneous disease, 1 Sp. Ecc. & Ad. 205 ; unreasonable denial of usual necessaries and comforts so as to affect health, 3 N. C. 340 ; 2 Add. 382 ; cruelty to children in the mother’s presence, in order to wound her feelings, and to such an extent as probably to be injurious to her health, 28 L. J. P. & M. 46; 42 L. J. P. & M. 23; but such acts as drunkenness, 29 L. J. P. & M. 64; debauching household servants, 34 L. J. P. & M. 139 ; debarring a wife from intercourse with her family, 4 Hagg. Ecc. 269; sleeping in a separate bed, 1 Hagg. Ecc. Supp. 776, are not. Cruelty is not excused by drunkenness or delirium, tremens, 28 L. J. P. & M. 13; 1 Sw. & Tr. 312; 7 W. R. 129; or ungovernable passion, 27 L. J. P. & M. 73; 1 Sw. & Tr. 192; but insanity excuses, 33 L. J. P. & M. 65; 3 Sw. & Tr. 349; 1 Sw. & Tr. 591. Extreme and Repeated. Wilful misconduct which endangers the life or health of the other spouse, or exposes her to bodily hazard and intolerable hardship and renders cohabitation unsafe. Many acts are not necessary, but there must be more than one act of violence. 138 111. 445. When charged to the wife, slight acts of violence are insufficient so long as it may be reasonably presumed that the husband will be able to protect himself. 140 111. 829. To Animals. Cruelly beating, illtreating, over-driving, or inflicting unnecessary pain. Incensing cocks to fight, 32 L. J. M. C. 95; cutting cock’s comb for exhibition purposes, 46 L. J. M. C. 211, is such cruelty; and so it may be such cruelty to turn an animal which is already suffering into a field to graze, when it can only do so by giving itself additional pain, 26 W. R. 332; 42 J. P. 248; 38 L. T. 360. But the mere omission to kill a suflfering animal is not such cruelty Id.) ; nor the merely unlawful killing of an animal, or shooting it intending to kill it but leaving it to die in pain, 26 W. R. 721; nor the sending parrots a ten-hours’ railway journey without water, 50 L. J. M. C. 67; 29 W. R. 538; 45 J. P. 522; 44 L. T. 424; nor a painful operation bona fide believed to be proper, e. g., spaying sows, to improve the flesh as human food, 56 L. J. M. C..45.

Synonyms of Cruelty


  • atrocity
  • austerity
  • barbarity
  • barbarousness
  • bloodthirstiness
  • brutality
  • brutalness
  • brutishness
  • crudelitas
  • cruel act
  • cruel conduct
  • deliberate malice
  • deviltry
  • enmity
  • ferity
  • ferociousness
  • ferocity
  • fierceness
  • harshness
  • heartlessness
  • illnature
  • illusage
  • illwill
  • infliction of pain
  • inhumanity
  • intolerance
  • malice
  • malice aforethought
  • malice prepense
  • maliciousness
  • malignance
  • malignancy
  • malignity
  • mercilessness
  • oppression
  • outrage
  • persecution
  • rancor
  • relentlessness
  • remorselessness
  • ruthlessness
  • savageness
  • savagery
  • severity
  • spite
  • sternness
  • torture
  • tyranny
  • uncompassionateness
  • unkindness
  • unremorsefulness
  • viciousness
  • victimization
  • violence
  • Associated Concepts: cruelty of treatment
  • cruelty to animals
  • cruelty to children
  • extreme cruelty
  • habitual cruelty
  • mental cruelty
  • unneccessary cruelty

Related Entries of Cruelty in the Encyclopedia of Law Project

Browse or run a search for Cruelty in the American Encyclopedia of Law, the Asian Encyclopedia of Law, the European Encyclopedia of Law, the UK Encyclopedia of Law or the Latin American and Spanish Encyclopedia of Law.

Cruelty in Historical Law

You might be interested in the historical meaning of this term. Browse or search for Cruelty in Historical Law in the Encyclopedia of Law.

Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms

Search for legal acronyms and/or abbreviations containing Cruelty in the Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms Dictionary.

Related Legal Terms

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Mentioned in these terms

Cruel, Ill Treatment, Malice, Permanent Alimony.


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This definition of Cruelty is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary . This entry needs to be proofread.

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English Legal System: Cruelty

In the context of the English law, A Dictionary of Law provides the following legal concept of Cruelty :

Formerly, behaviour serious enough to injure a spouse’s physical or mental health. Cruelty is no longer a basis in itself for granting a divorce or orders in magistrates’ courts.



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