An Analysis of the Supreme Court’s Guidelines on the Ambit of Maintenance in Matrimonial Cases

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The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines in the Rajesh vs. Neha case relating to the ambit of maintenance in matrimonial cases. The case dealt with the husband Rajnesh who stopped paying maintenance to his wife, Neha, and their son following divorce. The wife had filed a suit under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code demanding the restitution of maintenance, denied to her. 

Overlapping Jurisdiction 

During the case, many laws came into the picture to give impetus to the claim of maintenance. Section 36 and 37 of the Special Marriage Act give the wife the right to claim maintenance as to support and for legal expenses. Further, the wife can receive permanent alimony, which includes payment by the husband for the support of the wife for life. Sections 24, 25, and 26 of The Hindu Marriage Act, also known as HMA provides for maintenance for parties without a regular income. This makes it gender neutral during the case (lis pendens). The Court can issue an order to the respondent to pay reasonable monthly maintenance to the plaintiff. Here, the income of the respondent is an important factor. Maintenance can be awarded for the education and well-being of the child at the Court’s discretion. Section 18 and 23 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act states that the wife has the right to maintenance by her husband after separation. This section will only be applicable under a subsistence of marriage. Following a proper divorce, Section 25 of the HMA becomes the only recourse for the wife. Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides for immediate payment of maintenance by the husband to the wife. If payment of maintenance is not within a specified period, the husband may face imprisonment for one month, or until the payment is over. Section 17 and 19 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act provides for the aggrieved wife for a shared legal house in a household. This can happen even if the wife has no legal interest in the household. 

The Acts mentioned here operate in succession. Thus, the Court had observed that while a case may come under different Acts, it can cause confusion. Thus, the Court decided to take a more streamlined approach to the subject to prevent many interpretations of the same subject. The applicant of the suit would now have to enclose the details of the previous proceedings which the Court would then analyze and decide the ambit of the maintenance in cases involving successive claims under the different statutes. 

The Ambit of Maintenance 

The relevance of Family Courts was highlighted by the Court here. During the early stages of the suit, the dispute must be settled between the parties with the involvement of marriage counsellors. This is in accordance with Section 6 and 9 of the Family Courts Act, 1984. The Court had observed that in most cases there is a tendency by the wife to ask for more maintenance than she needs, while the husband may conceal his actual income. So, an affidavit enclosing all the previous proceedings should be there in the court including the details of any pending litigations. The Court also made it clear that other facts within the Court’s decision will also be considered while determining the ambit of maintenance. 

The nature of maintenance was also redefined by the Court. The Court had said that the amount must not be so little that the wife has to live in poverty nor so huge that it becomes unbearable for the husband to pay. Certain factors to determine the nature of maintenance were laid down by the Court. The financial status and employability of both parties must be taken into consideration. This includes the way in which the wife used to live during the marriage, the education of the wife, and the amount needed to live reasonably. The income of the husband, the number of people dependent on his income, and his expenses must also be taken into consideration. There are cases where the wife used to have a job but resigned from it to take care of the family. Here, the Court must take the employability of the wife during the time of the suit as an important factor. In cases where the wife has a job, the husband must not be relieved of all liability immediately.

It falls upon the husband to prove his inability to provide support under circumstances which the Court finds reasonable. The Court also said that the expenses in education must usually be taken by the father. But in cases where the wife is a sufficient earner, the expenses can be shared by both parties. The issue of enforcing maintenance was another complex matter. The Court said that in instances where the maintenance is not paid in accordance with the rules laid down by the Court, then the Court may impose fines and imprisonment for a month or until payment according to the discretion of the Court.  

Conclusion 

Separation of a marriage is usually a messy affair. Prolonged suits and unspecified laws may prove to become an undue burden upon a family and especially on the minor children caught under the legal crossfire of the affair. Specific guidelines on the matter of maintenance and the reinforced authority of counsellors and the Family Court have proven to be a boon in the messy affair of separation. A large number of wives within the country leave their dreams and aspirations to take care of the family. The role of the father is not less important as in most cases the entire financial burden of the family usually falls upon him. Only time will tell if judgment would hold to the families of the country in the following years. 


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