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Gist of Rajya Sabha TV : Supreme Guidelines on Matrimonial Disputes

  • Published
    14th Nov, 2020

Introduction

In a significant judgment delivered, 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. 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. 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. 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. The ruling came on a maintenance dispute between a Mumbai-based couple. In this edition of The Big Picture we will analyse the Supreme Court’s guidelines on Matrimonial Disputes.

Edited Excerpts from the debate

Guidelines issued by the Court

  • The Court issued guidelines on the following aspects:
    • Issue of Overlapping Jurisdictions
    • Payment of interim maintenance
    • Criteria for determining quantum of maintenance
    • Date from which Maintenance to be awarded
    • Enforcement of orders of maintenance

Issue of overlapping jurisdiction

The Court said that it has become necessary to issue directions to overcome the issue of overlapping jurisdiction and to avoid conflicting orders being passed in different proceedings. Such directions are necessary so that there is uniformity in the practices followed by family courts, district courts and magistrate courts throughout the country, the Bench noted.

The following directions were issued by the Court towards that end:

  • Where successive claims for maintenance are made under different statutes, the court would consider adjustment or set-off of the amount awarded in a previous proceeding while determining whether any further amount is to be awarded in the subsequent proceedings.
  • It is mandatory for the applicant to disclose during the subsequent proceedings, details of the previous proceeding and the orders passed in such previous proceedings.
  • If the order passed in the previous proceedings requires any modification or variation, the party would be required to move the concerned court in the same proceeding.

Payment of interim maintenance

  • The Court ruled that an affidavit of disclosure of assets and liabilities annexed to the judgment should be filed by both parties in all maintenance proceedings, including pending proceedings before the concerned family courts, district courts or magistrate courts throughout the country.

Criteria for determining quantum of maintenance

  • For determining the quantum of interim and permanent maintenance/ alimony payable to an applicant, the concerned court shall consider the criteria enumerated in the judgment. The apex court made it clear that there can be no straitjacket formula for fixing the quantum of maintenance to be awarded.
  • The court, however, laid down the following factors to be taken into account while fixing the quantum of maintenance.
    1. Age and employment of parties:The court ruled that in a marriage of long duration, where parties have endured the relationship for several years, this would be a relevant factor to be taken into consideration. On termination of the relationship, if the wife is educated and professionally qualified, but had to give up her employment opportunities to look after the needs of the family being the primary caregiver to the minor children, and the elder members of the family, this factor would be required to be given due importance. With advancement of age, it would be difficult for a dependant wife to get an easy entry into the work-force after a break of several years, the court noted.
    2. Right to residence:It was observed that Section 17 of the Domestic Violence Act grants an aggrieved woman the right to live in the “shared household”. The right of a woman to reside in a “shared household” defined under Section 2(s) of the DV Act entitles the aggrieved woman for right of residence in the shared household, irrespective of her having any legal interest in the same, the court ruled.
    3. Where wife is earning some income: The Bench noted that courts have consistently held that if the wife is earning, it cannot operate as a bar from being awarded maintenance by the husband.
    4. Maintenance of minor children: The living expenses of the child, it was ruled, would include expenses for food, clothing, residence, medical expenses, education of children. Extra coaching classes or any other vocational training courses to complement the basic education must be also factored in, while awarding child support.
    5. Serious disability or ill health: The court further held that serious disability or ill health of a spouse, child / children from the marriage / dependant relative who require constant care and recurrent expenditure, would also be a relevant consideration while quantifying maintenance,

Date from which maintenance is to be awarded

  • It has become necessary to issue directions to bring about uniformity and consistency in the orders passed by all courts.
  • SC, therefore, directed that maintenance be awarded from the date on which the application for maintenance was made before the concerned court.
  • "The right to claim maintenance must date back to the date of filing the application, since the period during which the maintenance proceedings remained pending is not within the control of the applicant,"the judgment said.

Enforcement of orders of maintenance

  • It held that an order of maintenance may be enforced/ executed under Section 28A of the Hindu Marriage Act, Section 20(6) of the Domestic Violence Actor Section 128 of CrPC.
  • Further, an order for maintenance may be enforced as a money decree under the Code of Civil Procedure.

Applicability of the Judgement

  • The order will apply to lower courts, such as family courts, district courts, and magistrate’s courts.
  • The idea of the order was to bring uniformity in judgments in different cases.

Conclusion

By issuing the guidelines, the Supreme Court has taken a step ahead towards the welfare of deserted wife and their children. They will not only bring uniformity but consistency among all the courts proceedings throughout the nation.

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