Thursday, April 25, 2024

Maintenance Paradox

An abandoned wife can claim maintenance from her estranged husband even if she is educated and employed. There is a logical economic line defining the situation

By Sujit Bhar

Indian lawmakers have been careful to incorporate several caveats in their laws, protecting India’s oft-abandoned wives and courts are also armed with laws that create a level-playing field in the case of domestic disputes. In this, the word “maintenance” seems to have had more than one societal interpretation that the courts endeavour to iron out.

Recently, the Delhi High Court decreed that just because the wife is a graduate, she cannot be “compelled to work” and that this cannot be interpreted as her intentional act of refraining from employment, so that she can claim maintenance from her estranged husband. This might lead to a situation called “logical paradox”.

The Court’s remarks came in response to a petition filed by a man wanting the wife’s monthly interim maintenance to be reduced. The monthly maintenance amount was initially set at Rs 25,000, but the husband wanted it reduced to Rs 15,000, saying that it wasn’t fair that his wife was sitting at home, despite holding a B.Sc degree.

The bench of Justices Suresh Kumar Kait and Neena Bansal Krishna, while accepting the fact that she did hold a degree, also stressed upon the fact that she had never been employed and it was not easy for her to find employment at this stage. The Court’s order was in an appeal that had come up from a family court’s determination of the interim maintenance.

At the same time, the Court also declined to agree to an appeal by the wife for an increase in the maintenance amount. The only concession the Court showed was in setting aside a Rs 1,000 penalty per day for the husband, in case of a delayed maintenance payment. The interest would be 6% per annum for any delayed payments.

However, had the husband insisted, he just might have slipped at Section 125 of the CrPC, which states that even an employed wife can seek maintenance, under certain circumstances.

An analysis of this situation would show that the definition of the word “maintenance” incorporates the fact that he or she is not being able to maintain herself or himself, and whether he/she is employed or not makes little difference. She might be saddled with kids (of the estranged husband) who have to be fed and educated and her earnings might not add up to this. The husband will have to meet the basic demands, despite her employed status.

Under Section 125, the following are eligible to claim and get maintenance irrespective of the provisions of maintenance in personal laws:

  • A wife from her husband;
  • Legitimate or illegitimate minor children, whether married or not, from their father;
  • Legitimate or illegitimate children (differently-abled physically or mentally) from their father, provided such a child is not a married daughter;
  • Father or mother unable to maintain themselves from their son;
  • Minor female child till she attains majority.

As per Section 18 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, the wife can get maintenance on several grounds.

Husband’s claim

However, maintenance is a double-edged sword and this Act also allows the husband to claim maintenance. This emanates from Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which makes provision for either the husband or the wife to apply for interim maintenance. This is the maintenance that is payable through the duration of the case until it is settled and the Court arrives at a final decision.

This Act endeavours to create a positive space for the husband too and that is available in Sections 24 and 25. This will be defined as a “deserving man” who has “no sufficient income to support his livelihood” or does not have enough necessary expenses for the proceedings and has the right to claim maintenance from his wife.

Permanent alimony and maintenance is also allowed to the husband under Section 25 of the Act. A gross amount of sum or monthly sum is ordered to be paid to the husband by the wife. This order is subject to modification by the court in case of change in circumstances.

This paradox is established in economic terms and it should also apply to the husband. It is generally acceptable in society—not just in India—that the husband is responsible for the welfare of a family within a patriarchal system. The matter should be differently looked at in a matriarchy, and while Indian courts are adept at this, society seems too lazy to keep up.

Times are changing. It has been traditionally accepted that the wife is deserving of maintenance, and it is often appealed as so. However, husbands do not want to face society with their inability to support himself. Such cases are bound to fall through courts. It would be interesting to know that Indian laws are well equipped to protect the woman, as well as support a deserving man.

“Maintenance” isn’t dole, it is the result of responsibility. It is a tricky matter, though.


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