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Supreme Court guidelines on Matrimonial Disputes (6 November 2020)

Supreme Court guidelines on Matrimonial Disputes (6 November 2020)

Why in News:

SC lays down guidelines for payment of maintenance in matrimonial cases.

Context:

In a significant judgment delivered on Wednesday, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for determining quantum of interim maintenance to be awarded during pendency of matrimonial matters from the day, it had been filed. The bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and R. Subhash Reddy also made it mandatory for a spouse to reveal at any maintenance proceedings whether any other court had already granted the spouse maintenance under some other law. Estranged wives often seek maintenance simultaneously under various laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, Domestic Violence Act, Special Marriages Act and Section 125 of the CrPC while keeping the various courts in the dark about this, the bench noted.

Background:

The judgment was based on a matrimonial plea from Maharashtra on the question of payment of maintenance by a man to his wife and son under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Summary of the Debate

Key points of the guidelines:

  • Alimony: Deserted wives and children are entitled to alimony/maintenance from their husbands from the date they apply for it in a court of law.
  • Moral Duty of Husband: The plea of the husband that he does not possess any source of income ipso facto does not absolve him of his moral duty to maintain his wife, if he is able-bodied and has educational qualifications.
  • Transparency: Both the applicant wife and the respondent husband have to disclose their assets and liabilities in a maintenance case.
  • Penal Provisions: A violation would lead to punishment, such as civil detention and even attachment of the property of the latter.
  • Expenses of the children: The expenses of the children, including their education, basic needs and other vocational activities, should be factored in by courts while calculating the alimony.
  • Other factors: Such as “spiralling inflation rates and high costs of living” should be considered, but the wife should receive an alimony which fit the standard of life she was used to in the matrimonial home.
  • Financial positions of the spouses: It also made it mandatory for both spouses to state their financial positions at any maintenance proceedings and update the affidavit whenever significant changes occur in their circumstances during the course of the hearings.
  • Disclosure of assets and liabilities: The bench also stressed the need for both spouses to file an “affidavit of disclosure of assets and liabilities” during maintenance proceedings at any court. The existing statutes do not mandate such disclosure.

What happens if financial status of the husband or the wife changes:

  • In such a scenario, it is expected of either of the parties whose financial status has changed for the better or for the worse to bring it to the notice of the honorable court especially the husband if he is a giving party, he is the one who is facing an order of maintenance which has been passed against him and he is supposed to give an ‘X’ amount of rupees for maintenance towards his wife and children.
  • He can move an appropriate application before the concerned court and if his earning capacity is actually changed, then the court can modify it in a given circumstance.

Various laws dealing with issues of matrimonial dispute:

  • Hindu Marriage Act: If, there is matrimonial proceeding going on, divorce proceeding going on, in that under section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, either party can ask for maintenance during the pendency of the divorce proceedings. Even the husband can ask for maintenance.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure: Under 125 CrPC, wife can ask for maintenance for herself till she gets remarried as well as maintenance for her children. When a daughter is concerned, the father is often supposed to pay even marriage expenses for the grown-up daughter.
  • Domestic violence Act: An estranged wife can ask for maintenance for herself and for her children. She can ask for residence orders, she can ask for child support, etc.
  • Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act: The wife can ask for maintenance depending upon the yearly quantum or salary of the husband.
  • Special Marriage Act: There is a provision for asking for maintenance from the husband.

Constitutional safeguards:

  • Article 15(3): Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
  • Article 39: Directs state policy towards equal pay and opportunities for both men and women, and protecting the health of women and children.

Conclusion:

  • It’s a stepping stone and this will clear so many confusions and conflicts of judgements for different high courts. It will help the litigants to understand the proceedings better and to get the relief within stipulated time period.

Important points made by the Guests

Attin Shankar Rastogi, Advocate, Supreme Court

  • It’s a path breaking judgement and they have laid down six principles which were very essential to cut down the litigation and to give clarity to the judicial officers for the entire country and for the litigants and for the lawyers.
  • First of all, there is a concept of set off which has been reiterated by the Supreme Court and it has been held that in case if there are multiple proceedings under which wife has claimed maintenance. So, the proceedings in which the maintenance has been granted earlier will be set off in the fresh application of maintenance.
  • One thing is also tacitly clarified by the judgement is that proceedings in all other laws also can go simultaneously, because earlier there was a conflict that if you have filed care of the maintenance which has already been granted.
  • There is a concept of filing affidavits. Basically, there are three segments to the affidavit:

(a) Affidavit which can be used in metro cities

(b) Affidavit filed by the husband and the wife who are living in rural cities

(c) For tribal areas and primarily from Meghalaya

  • So, the judgement clarifies that in metro cities, the state of ownership, the kind of lifestyle that the people live is different from the lifestyle that the people live in the villages or in rural areas.
  • In affidavit for rural areas, there is a mention of livestock, cows, fisheries and assets of that nature and lease wherein the agricultural cultivates take the land on hire and they cultivate.
  • This will have an impact on pan-India basis which will give a uniform colour to all the proceedings, this is the best aspects of this judgement.
  • There is a concept of from which date to be reckon that the maintenance should be granted because what happens when the spouse files for maintenance, then the question arises from which date the maintenance should be given to the wife.
  • In most of the cases, the courts grant from the date of the application, when the wife filed the application. In some of the cases, it is granted from the date of the order and in some of the cases, it is granted from the date of the summons on which the husband was served the summons of the application.
  • So, this judgement clarifies that the maintenance will be granted from the date when it is filed.
  • Certainly, the laws are misused and in most of the cases, the wives are victimized.

Prof. V. Rajyalaxmi, Sociologist, Janki Devi Memorial College, DU  

  • India has a lot of diversity in terms of culture, class, urban rural divide, the developmental pattern, all is very divided and society is moving very fast, there is too much of rubbing of relationship. So, it is important to respect the law but at the same time to respect the relationship.
  • There is a dignity to be maintained in terms, suppose in case, a wife is not able to earn or not able to provide for herself that she should get a right for maintenance. At the same time, the women, who are able to feed for themselves also should give the relief to men in case they are unable to actually provide or go beyond a point.
  • Both the parties need to be very sensitive in terms of their needs.

Rekha Agarwal, Advocate, Supreme Court

  • There are various laws under which maintenance can be awarded to women especially the estranged wives who have been either thrown out of their matrimonial home or who have walked out of their own choice and have got minor children to support.
  • In all the matrimonial laws of our country, they have made provision for maintenance for the spouse as well as for the minor children.
  • It is another matter altogether that whenever there is a matrimonial dispute, both the parties are warring with each other, both the parties do not come out honestly. Sometimes, even the wives are not very honest about what they are earning or what their earning capacity is.
  • The recent judgement which has just been passed yesterday, it has summarized the entire law regarding maintenance. The basic object is to protect the wife from destitution and vagrancy.
  • Just two weeks ago, Supreme Court in the case of Satish Chandra Ahuja vs Neha has laid down the right of all women to stay in their husband’s house and their in-laws house even if the house is not owned by the husband.

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