This article is written by R Sai Gayatri, from the Post Graduate College of Law, Osmania University. This article deals with Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
This article has been published by Abanti Bose.
Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 talks about the maintenance pendente lite and expenses of proceedings. Here, the term maintenance refers to the provision of basic needs to a dependent spouse and ‘pendente lite’ is a Latin term that means “while a suit is pending” or “while litigation continues”. Thus, it can be understood that ‘maintenance pendente lite’ refers to the provision of living expenses and financial support to the spouse (either wife or husband) while a suit is pending. Let us know more about Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Section 24 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (hereinafter ‘HMA,1955’) states that in any proceeding under the HMA, 1955, if a court believes that either the husband or the wife has no source of independent income to provide for his or her support and the required expenses of the proceedings then the court may, on the application of such dependent spouse, order the other spouse to pay –
- The expenses of the proceedings
- The monthly sum during such proceedings as the court finds reasonable with regard to the income of both the spouses.
In the case of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 a similar provision has been made under Section 36 with a key differentiation that under this Act, the alimony pendente lite (alimony during pendency of the suit) can only be claimed by the wife, it does not apply to the husband. Further, Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 also talks about the provision of interim maintenance to the wife by the husband.
The provision of interim maintenance under Section 24 applies to the cases of restitution of conjugal right (Section 9), judicial separation (Section 10), void marriages (Section 11), voidable marriages (Section 12) and divorce (Section 13). Either the husband or the wife may claim interim maintenance for himself or herself or their child irrespective of the fact as to which party started the proceedings. The primary condition for grant of interim maintenance is that one party to the proceeding does not have sufficient independent income for their support and the required expenses of the proceedings. By the virtue of Section 24, the court can exercise the power conferred upon it even if the Respondent denies the factum of marriage.
Objective of Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
The maintenance pendente lite provides for the personal support of the claimant spouse and the required expenses of the proceeding. The objective of maintenance pendente lite and expenses under Section 24 of HMA, 1955 is primarily to provide financial assistance to the claimant spouse in order for them to carry on with the proceedings and maintain themselves.
It must be understood that pendente lite maintenance is provided to either of the spouses under HMA, 1955 i.e., either of the spouses can claim maintenance. However, under other statutes such as the Special Marriage Act (1954), Criminal Procedure Code (1973), etc., the claim for maintenance can only be made by the wife and not the husband.
In the case of Chitra Lekha v. Ranjit Rai (1977), it has been held that the objective of Section 24 is to provide financial assistance to the indigent spouse to maintain herself or himself during the pendency of the proceedings and also to have sufficient funds to carry on with the litigation or defend themselves so that they shall not suffer unduly in the conduct of the case for the want of funds.
Power of the court under Section 24 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
The courts have the discretion in passing an order regarding the interim maintenance amount that a spouse may be required to pay to the other based on reasonable grounds. In order to exercise this discretion, the court considers the income of the spouse who has made the application for interim maintenance and the income of the other spouse who is required to pay such interim maintenance and expenses.
In the case of Rajendran v. Gajalakshmi (1985), the Madras High Court held that the interim maintenance under Section 24 of HMA, 1955 should be a ‘reasonable’ amount. It was further held that stating the fact that the brother of the wife is an income-earner is irrelevant and is an invalid ground to refuse interim maintenance to the wife under Section 24. Thus, the grant of interim maintenance of Rupees 150 per month as ordered by the lower court was held to be reasonable by the Madras High Court.
The conduct of the parties is an important factor that will influence the discretion of the court. Under Section 24, the court will not ignore the conduct of the parties. For example, if a spouse brings cohabitation to an end by their own misconduct, the court may refuse to grant them any relief under Section 24.
It is pertinent to note that the court’s discretion is judicial and not arbitrary in nature. Such judicial discretion must be exercised within the ambit of Section 24 considering the objective of the Act and by adhering to the ideal principles of the matrimonial law. In Mukan Kuwar v. Ajit Chand (1958), it was held that the discretionary power of the court must be based on sound legal principles and not on caprice and humour.
Procedure under Section 24 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
Under Section 24 of the HMA, 1955 a matter is contemplated as a summary enquiry and not a full-fledged trial at length. If the court believes that the applicant is not likely to succeed in the dispute then in such a case the court cannot solely on the basis of such ground refuse to grant interim maintenance and expense of proceedings under Section 24.
In the case of Sushila Viresh Chhadva v. Viresh Nagshi Chhadva (1996), the Bombay High Court held that the fact that there is a strong possibility of a marriage being declared null shall not be a ground for denying interim maintenance and expenses of the proceeding to the spouse claiming such interim maintenance under Section 24 of HMA, 1955.
The proviso appended to Section 24 states that the application for the payment of interim maintenance and expenses of proceedings shall utmost be disposed of within sixty days from the date of service of notice on the spouse.
Quantum of maintenance under Section 24
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 under Section 24 does not lay down any rigid rule for deciding the quantum of interim maintenance. However, the quantum for such interim maintenance depends upon the following factors:
- The duration of the marriage.
- The means and conduct of the spouses.
- The ability of the spouse to earn.
- Education and maintenance of children.
- Other such reasonable needs of the claimant.
It is to be noted that in the matters of granting maintenance pendente lite, the Court exercises a wide discretion, however, this discretion is not to be exercised in an arbitrary manner. It should be within the ambit of Section 24 and guided by the ideal principles of matrimonial laws.
In the case of Dinesh Mehta v. Usha Mehta (1978), the High Court of Bombay held that Section 24 of HMA, 1955 deals with the deciding of a reasonable amount for the interim maintenance. Thus, the fixing of a reasonable amount is more about finding a balance among several competing claims. The Court further stated that reasonableness necessarily means that the wife must be ensured of similar comforts and amenities same as she was getting when residing with her husband excluding the reduction resulting from separation and creation of two different establishments.
When can an application under Section 24 be made?
The application for interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding under Section 24 of the HMA, 1955 can be filed any time during the pendency of the suit. In the case where the wife is the respondent, she can seek the grant before her written statement is filed.
In the case of Chagan Lal v. Sakkha Devi (1974), the High Court of Rajasthan held that an application for interim maintenance under Section 24 HMA, 1955 and also an application for maintenance under any other matrimonial statute must be decided as quickly as possible but in any case before the main application is decided.
Maintenance to children under Section 24 of HMA, 1955
The primary object of Section 24 of the HMA, 1955 is to enable the provision of interim maintenance to the claimant spouse along with the expenses of the proceedings. However, in certain exceptional cases, the court can order the maintenance even for the children who are living with and are dependent on the spouse who has claimed the interim maintenance and where such claim has been justified by the court.
In the case of Jasbir Kaur Sehgal v. District Judge (1997), the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that provisions under Section 24 cannot be given a restricted meaning. It was further held that the wife’s right to claim maintenance pendente lite would include her own maintenance and that of her unmarried daughter living with her.
Expenses of the proceedings
A spouse can claim interim maintenance along with the necessary expenses of the proceedings under Section 24 of the HMA, 1955. This provision ensures that the spouse is provided with sufficient funds to meet the expenses of the proceedings. The scope of ‘expenses of the proceedings’ is wide; it includes court fees, lawyer’s fees, expenditure incurred in getting services of the witnesses, xerox and typing charges, process fees, etc.
In the case of Prili Parihar v. Kailash Singh Parihar (1975), the Court held that if the need arose subsequently, the court has the jurisdiction to grant additional expenses in excess of what was originally sanctioned by it.
Enforcement of orders
The courts have recourse to methods apart from the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 for the enforcement of orders regarding interim maintenance and expenses of proceedings. In the case of Narinder Kaur v. Prilam Singh (1985), an employed husband who denied obeying the order to pay maintenance pendente lite was punished for contempt and given a sentence of four months.
In the case of Anita Karmotrar v. Birendra Chandra Kannokat (1962), the Calcutta High Court held that it was a strictly permissible step to stay the proceedings of the petitioner in the event of the husband’s non-compliance of order to pay maintenance pendente lite and expenses. It was further held that Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code vests the court with the said power.
In the case of Amarjit Kaur v. Harbhajan Singh (2003), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the main condition for the grant of maintenance pendente lite is by ascertaining whether the spouse claiming such interim maintenance has independent income that is sufficient for their support. If it is shown that such spouse does not have sufficient income then the court is bound to grant interim maintenance and the only discretion left with the court shall be the quantum of such interim maintenance.
The effect of non-compliance of order on pending appeal has been discussed in the case of Banso v. Sarwan (1978), where the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered the husband for payment of maintenance pendente lite on the preference of an appeal by the wife after her petition for judicial separation was dismissed by the court below. The husband disobeyed the order of the Court. On this ground, the High Court allowed the appeal.
Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 states that in any proceeding under the HMA, 1955, if a court believes that either the husband or the wife has no source of independent income to provide for his or her support and the required expenses of the proceedings then the Court may, on the application of such dependent spouse, order the other spouse to pay the expenses of the proceedings and the monthly sum during such proceeding as the Court finds reasonable with regard to the income of both the spouses.
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