WOMEN/ JUDICIARY/ GOVERNANCE
Topic: General Studies 1,2:
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
Alimony guidelines: On maintenance laws
Context: Women deserted by husbands are often left in dire straits and reduced to destitution, for lack of means to sustain themselves and their children.
Usually maintenance cases have to be settled in 60 days, but they take years in reality owing to legal loopholes.
Recent Supreme Court Judgement on alimony guidelines
1. Alimony entitled from the date of application:
- The Supreme Court on November 4 held that deserted wives and children are entitled to alimony/maintenance from the husbands from the date they apply for it in a court of law.
- This was based on the rationale that the primary object of maintenance laws is to protect a deserted wife and dependent children from destitution and vagrancy.
2. Educational Expenses of 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. Education expenses of the children must be normally borne by the father.
- If the wife is working and earning sufficiently, the expenses may be shared proportionately between the parties
3. Permanent Alimony:
- The court opined it would not be equitable to order a husband to pay his wife permanent alimony for the rest of her life, considering the fact that in contemporary society marriages do not last for a reasonable length of time.
- The Court thus said that the duration of a marriage should be accounted for while determining the permanent alimony.
4. 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.
5. Penal Provisions:
- To ensure that judicial orders for grant of maintenance are duly enforced by husbands, The court said a violation would lead to punishments such as civil detention and even attachment of the property of the latter.
6. Transparency: Both the applicant wife and the respondent husband have to disclose their assets and liabilities in a maintenance case.
7. Acknowledges Women’s sufferings: The court said despite a plethora of maintenance laws, women were left empty-handed for years, struggling to make ends meet after a bad marriage.
8. Recognises long duration for resolution: If maintenance is not paid from the date of application, the party seeking maintenance would be deprived of sustenance, owing to the time taken for disposal of the application, which often runs into several years.
9. Equality for Live-in Couples: The judgment reiterated that Section 125 of the CrPC would include couples living together for years within its ambit. Strict proof of marriage should not be a pre-condition for grant of maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC.
10. Guidelines for other courts: SC has laid down uniform and comprehensive guidelines for family courts, magistrates and lower courts to follow while hearing the applications filed by women seeking maintenance from their estranged husbands.
11. Inequitable for husband to pay alimony under multiple Legislations
- The Court observed that women can make a claim for alimony under different laws, including the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Section 125 of the CrPC, or under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- Thus, the court said that it “would be inequitable to direct the husband to pay maintenance under each of the proceedings”, urging civil and family courts to take note of previous settlements.
- Given the large and growing percentage of matrimonial litigation, some clarity was necessary.
Connecting the dots: