This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article deals with the Supreme Court judgments on granting of maintenance to wife.
The notion of maintenance may be traced back to a civilised society’s social justice system. In Badshah v. Urmila Badshah Godse and Anr. (2013), the Supreme Court of India explained the justification for granting maintenance by stating that “maintenance is provided with the goal of strengthening the poor and attaining social justice, or individual equality and dignity. It encapsulates societal ideals.” The right to demand maintenance is statutory in India, and it cannot be taken away by an agreement to the contrary. Maintenance might be granted throughout the course of the proceedings (maintenance pendente lite) or after the completion of the proceedings (maintenance final), that is permanent maintenance. The right to claim maintenance is available to wives, children, and parents. Even husbands (who are unable to support themselves) are entitled to maintenance under specific personal laws. This article provides a list of ten Supreme Court judgments concerning the maintenance of a wife.
Latest Supreme Court judgments on granting of maintenance to wife
In India, married women have the right to seek maintenance (both interim and permanent) under general laws, in addition to their rights under their separate personal laws.
Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) requires a husband to support his wife (who is otherwise unable to maintain herself). The Supreme Court in Bhuwan Mohan Singh v. Meena & Ors (2014) has held that Section 125 of CrPC was conceived to alleviate the agony, anguish, and financial suffering of a woman who has left her matrimonial home for the reasons set forth in the provision so that the Court can make appropriate arrangements for her and her children if they are with her. The term “sustenance” does not always imply that one is living an animal’s existence. She has the legal right to conduct her life in the same manner as she would have in her husband’s home.
The Delhi High Court had ruled in Kusum Sharma v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma (2020) that maintenance is not only a constitutional right but also an element of universal human rights. The purpose of paying maintenance is twofold,
- First, to prevent vagrancy as a result of strained husband-wife relationships, and
- To guarantee that the poor litigating spouse is not crippled as a result of a lack of funds to defend or prosecute the case.
In addition to an order of maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC or any other legislation in effect, an aggrieved wife is entitled to maintenance under Section 20 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDA). The amount of maintenance must be adequate, fair, reasonable, and commensurate with the injured person’s quality of living.
Neha Tyagi v. Lieutenant Colonel Deepak Tyagi (2021)
A father’s duty and responsibility to keep his child until they reach the age of majority cannot be excused. It is also undeniable that the child has a right to be cared for in accordance with his father’s position. This was observed by division bench judges comprising of Hon’ble Justices Mukeshkumar Rasikbhai Shah and A.S. Bopanna of the Supreme Court of India, in the matter of Neha Tyagi vs. Lieutenant Colonel Deepak Tyagi (2021).
Facts of the case
The facts of the case are that the appellant and respondent were married and had a son out of wedlock. A disagreement erupted between the husband and wife, and the appellant-wife filed a number of complaints against the respondent-husband along with his employer, the Army Authorities. The complaints included the respondent’s extramarital affairs as well. The respondent-husband filed a divorce petition against the appellant-wife in the learned Family Court of Jaipur, alleging cruelty and desertion by the appellant. On May 19, 2008, the learned Family Court issued a decision dissolving the marriage between the appellant and the respondent based on cruelty and desertion by the appellant-wife. The appellant, in this case, filed an appeal with the High Court, feeling offended and unhappy with the ruling. The High Court dismissed the said appeal and upheld the decision and decree of the learned Family Court in the contested judgement and order. As a result, at the request of the appellant-wife, the present appeal was filed in the Supreme Court.
Observation by the Apex Court
- After reviewing the facts and arguments offered, the Supreme Court concluded that the respondent’s duty and responsibility to maintain his son until he reaches the age of majority cannot be relieved. A child should not be made to suffer because of a disagreement between husband and wife. The father’s duty and responsibility for the child’s maintenance remain until the child reaches the age of majority. It is likewise unarguable that the son has a right to be maintained in the same manner as his mother.
- It has been stated that the mother is unemployed. As a result, regardless of the decree of dissolution of the marriage between the appellant-wife and the respondent, a reasonable/sufficient sum is necessary for her son’s maintenance, including his schooling, which must be provided by the respondent.
- In light of the foregoing reasons indicated above, the current appeal was dismissed by affirming the divorce/dissolution of marriage decree entered between the appellant-wife and the respondent-husband. However, the respondent-husband is ordered to pay the appellant Rs.50,000/- per month beginning in December 2019 for the support of his kid, based on the respondent’s current condition.
Rajnesh v. Neha (2020)
In Rajnesh v Neha (2020), a Supreme Court division Bench comprising of Justices Indu Malhotra and Subhash Reddy put down extensive norms to control the payment of maintenance in matrimonial cases on November 4th, 2020.
Facts of the case
In this case, the appellant, Rajnesh, was ordered by the Family Court to pay maintenance to the respondent, Neha, and their minor child. He unsuccessfully challenged this order in the Bombay High Court and finally filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. Rajnesh was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay all his debts and make interim maintenance payments.
Guidelines by the Supreme Court of India
While adjudicating this case, the Court found the need to frame guidelines that would cover overlapping jurisdiction under different enactments for maintenance payment, interim maintenance payment, determining the quantum of maintenance, the date from which maintenance is to be awarded, and the enforcement of maintenance orders.
- The Court while addressing the conflict arising out of overlapping jurisdiction noted that, while there is no restriction on invoking multiple laws to obtain maintenance, it would be inequitable to direct the husband to pay maintenance under each of the proceedings, independent of the relief granted in a previous proceeding. As a result, the spouse seeking support must inform the Court if they have been awarded maintenance in a prior or separate proceeding. Furthermore, while determining the amount of maintenance, the Court must take into consideration any previous maintenance order in order to reduce or offset the amount.
- The Court has simplified the interim maintenance process in light of the judicial delay in adjudicating interim maintenance actions and the usual practice of parties concealing their financial position. The Court created affidavit templates for parties to use when declaring their financial situation. It also established deadlines to avoid delays and observed that the respondent must make their disclosure within four weeks, and the concerned court must rule on interim maintenance within four to six months.
- The Court acknowledged that there was no straitjacket formula to calculate the quantum of maintenance. The Court noted that the same should balance the applicant spouse’s interests with the responding spouse’s financial competence. The Court outlined considerations to examine when determining the amount of maintenance to be paid. The following items were included on the list, namely,
- The parties’ status,
- The applicant’s needs,
- The respondent’s income and property,
- The claimant’s liabilities and financial responsibilities,
- The parties’ age and employment status,
- The parties’ residential arrangements,
- The parties’ minor children’s maintenance, and
- Illness or disability..
- The Supreme Court noted that in the past, courts have utilised a variety of criteria to determine when maintenance should be paid to the applicant, including the date the application was filed, the date of the court order, and the date the respondent received the notification. After considering each of these cut-off dates, the Apex Court in the present case determined that awarding maintenance from the date of the application’s submission would be in the applicant’s best interests.
- The Court devised three techniques to address the challenges of implementing maintenance orders. First, the maintenance orders might be implemented in the same way as a civil court decision would, with the court having civil detention, property attachment, and other powers. Second, the court may dismiss the respondent’s defence. Finally, the court has the authority to begin contempt proceedings. Any of these tools might be used by the court to enforce maintenance orders.
Lalita Toppo v. the State of Jharkhand and Anr (2018)
In the present case of Lalita Toppo v. the State of Jharkhand and Anr. (2018) that appeared before the Supreme Court of India, the appellant, not a legally wedded wife of the respondent, had approached the Court to seek maintenance under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 assuming that she would not be entitled to maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Facts of the case
The appellant, in this case, was in a live-in-relationship out of which she also had a child. When the pair broke up, the appellant sought maintenance from her partner, which the Family Court in Gumla granted, paying her Rs 2000 per month and Rs 1000 to her child. Her partner took the matter to the Jharkhand High Court, which ruled that the Family Court’s ruling was incorrect. The appellant subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court, questioning the validity of the High Court’s decision. The three questions being associated with the present case that the Apex Court was made familiar with were:
- Whether a man and woman living together as husband and wife for a significant period of time would raise the presumption of a valid marriage between them, and whether such a presumption would entitle the woman to seek maintenance under Section 125 CrPC?
- Is transparent evidence of marriage required for a claim of maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC in light of the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005?
- Is it true that a marriage performed according to traditional rites and rituals without properly complying with the requirements of Section 7(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, or any other personal law would entitle the woman to maintenance under Section 125 CrPC?
Decision of the Apex Court
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India comprising of former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices UU Lalit and K.M. Joseph declined the aforementioned questions saying that the questions do not require any answer and further directed the appellant to approach an appropriate forum under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
Jaiminiben Hirenbhai Vyas & Another v. Hirenbhai Rameshchandra Vyas & another (2015)
In the case of Jaiminiben Hirenbhai Vyas & Another v. Hirenbhai Rameshchandra Vyas & another (2015), the Supreme Court was considering an appeal made before it by a wife and her minor daughter. Her son was living with his father, the appellate’s husband, who was maintaining him. Under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Family Court ordered the payment of interim maintenance to the wife and minor daughter of Rs. 6,000/- per month. Interim support of 3,000/- per month was also granted under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, payable to both parties. By Order dated 31.01.2009, the Family Court ultimately resolved the maintenance procedures. The Family Court ordered maintenance to the daughter in the amount of Rs. 5,000/- per month from the date of the verdict. The Family Court also held that the appellant-wife would be entitled to no more than the interim maintenance she was getting under the Act of 1955.
The son was living with his father, who was paying his maintenance, and hence was not entitled to it. The major reason for the Appellant’s denial of maintenance was that she was found to have worked before her marriage, and the Family Court believed she could earn a living even after the separation, therefore she was refused support. The High Court did not agree with this viewpoint, noting that the Appellant had ceased working following her marriage and had two children. She had quit working since she was solely focused on her family. The High Court, therefore, overturned the Family Court’s decision and awarded Rs. 5,000/- in maintenance.
But, the High Court had directed that the maintenance should be paid only from the date of its order and had not given any reason why it had not directed maintenance from the date of the application for maintenance. On being aggrieved by the same, the appellate approached the Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court’s observations
- Every final order issued under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 shall include points for determination, the decisions thereon, and the reasons for such decision. To put it another way, Sections 125 and 354 (6) of the Code of 1973 must be read together. Section 125 of the CrPC implies that the Court should consider making the maintenance order effective from any of the two dates (the date of the order or the date of the application). It is neither appropriate nor desirable that a Court simply states that maintenance should be paid from either the date of the order or the date of the application in matters of maintenance.
- The Apex Court had noted that the High Court had offered no reason why maintenance should not be granted from the date of the application. In light of the fact that the appellant worked before marriage but not throughout her marriage, the Apex Court concluded that the circumstances eminently warranted the grant of maintenance with effect from the date of the application as there was no record of her earnings throughout the time the couple was married. Hence, the Order of the High Court was reversed by the Supreme Court in the present case as it held that the amount of maintenance should be paid to the appellant from the date of the application for maintenance itself.
Manoj Yadav v. Pushpa @ Kiran Yadav (2011)
The present case of Manoj Yadav v. Pushpa @ Kiran Yadav (2011) concerned an appeal that was filed against the impugned judgement of the Madhya Pradesh High Court dated 23.01.2009 passed in Criminal Revision No. 12/2008. That judgement was rendered in a criminal revision brought against the learned Additional Family Court, Gwalior’s order dated 04.10.2007 giving respondent maintenance of Rs. 1,500/- per month under Section 125 CrPC. The respondent had requested an increase in the maintenance by means of her criminal revision. The High Court, in the impugned decision, awarded the wife-respondent in this matter monthly maintenance of Rs. 4,000/- with effect from January 1, 2009. That Order had been questioned before the Apex Court in the present case.
Observation of the Supreme Court of India
- Because of the change to Section 125 CrPC by Madhya Pradesh Act (10 of 1998), learned counsel for the appellant had contended that the maximum sum that may be given as maintenance under Section 125 CrPC in the state of Madhya Pradesh might be Rs. 3,000/-. It appears that Section 125 CrPC has been further amended in Madhya Pradesh by a subsequent amendment by Madhya Pradesh Act (15 of 2004), which does not contain any upper limit on the amount of maintenance that can be granted under the aforementioned provision and instead leaves it to the magistrate’s discretion. As a result, the appellant’s counsel’s contention stood without merit.
- After the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2001, which removed the phrase “not exceeding five hundred rupees in the whole,” any state amendments to Section 125 CrPC that established a ceiling on the amount of maintenance to be provided to the wife, became invalid. The appeal in the present case was therefore dismissed.
Bhabani Prasad Jena Etc. v. Convenr.Sec.Orissa S.Comn (2010)
In the present case of Bhabani Prasad Jena Etc vs Convenr.Sec.Orissa S.Comn (2010), two questions that were to be considered by the Supreme Court of India were as follows:
- The authority of the State Commission for Women, which was established under Section 3 of the Orissa (State) Commission for Women Act, 1993.
- Whether the High Court of Orissa was justified in issuing suo motu direction for the Deoxyribonucleic Acid Test (DNA) of the child and the appellant who, according to the mother of the child, was its father?
Facts of the case
Bhabani Prasad Jena, the appellant, and Suvashree Nayak, the respondent, married on May 15, 2007. On June 30, 2007, the Marriage Officer, Khurda, Bhubaneswar, issued a certificate of marriage under Section 13 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. On August 7, 2007, the appellant filed a petition in the Court of District Judge, Khurda, Bhubaneswar, under Section 25(iii) of the 1954 Act, seeking a declaration that the marriage between him and the respondent, registered on June 30, 2007, was null and void and that the marriage had not been consummated. The respondent had issued a written statement with respect to this matrimonial process, traversing the claims stated in the petition discussed above. She also demanded Rs. 10,00,000/- in alimony for the rest of her life.
The respondent filed a complaint with the Orissa (State) Commission for Women on December 30, 2008, alleging that she was married to the appellant and that they had separated due to the torture meted out to her by the appellant and his family members, as well as other issues which included that she had no source of income and was pregnant. The State Commission issued notifications to both parties in response to the complaint. The parties appeared before the State Commission on April 20, 2009. The appellant filed a written response to the complaint, claiming that the couples’ marriage was null and void owing to fraud and coercion and that he had already applied to the District Court of Khurda to have the marriage declared null and void.
The appellant filed a writ petition in the Orissa High Court challenging the aforementioned ruling. The appellant claimed that he did not father the child in the respondent’s womb and that there has been no husband-wife contact since August 7, 2007. On August 7, 2009, the High Court heard both writ petitions and issued an order mandating that the child’s DNA be tested at the SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack and that the appellant likewise furnishes a blood sample for DNA testing. Being unsatisfied with the Order, the appellant approached the Supreme Court of India.
Apex Court’s observations
- The use of DNA in a case where the paternity of a child is being debated in Court is a delicate and sensitive topic. One point of view is that when contemporary science provides ways of determining a child’s paternity, there should be no hesitation in using such techniques whenever the need arises. The opposing point of view is that the Court should be cautious about using scientific developments and instruments that infringe on an individual’s right to privacy and may not only be adverse to the parties’ rights but also have terrible consequences for the child. Even though the child’s parents were living together at the time of conception, the results of such scientific tests might sometimes taint an innocent child. When there appears to be a contradiction between a person’s right to privacy and the Court’s responsibility to find the truth, it is to be believed that the Court should exercise its discretion only after weighing the parties’ interests and considering whether DNA is crucially needed for a reasonable conclusion.
- Given the nature of the proceedings before the High Court, it must be concluded that the High Court exceeded its authority in issuing the challenged order. Surprisingly, the High Court overlooked the crucial fact that the couples’ marriage dispute was already proceeding in a court of competent jurisdiction and that the court will adjudicate and resolve all issues of the matrimonial dispute brought by the parties in that case. Therefore, it is not possible to sustain the order passed by the High Court.
- The Supreme Court allowed the appeals, thereby setting aside the Order of the High Court dated August 7, 2009, and the Order of the Orissa State Commission for Women dated May 11, 2009. The Apex Court further observed that the appellant shall be at liberty to contest the claim of maintenance from the respondent on all available grounds and the concerned court shall consider and determine such claim in accordance with the law on its own merits.
Bhushan Kumar Meen v. Mansi Meen @ Harpreet Kaur (2009)
In the case of Bhushan Kumar Meen v. Mansi Meen @ Harpreet Kaur (2009), the Supreme Court of India was considering an appeal directed against the Punjab & Haryana High Court’s judgement and order dated 1 July 2008 in Crl.Misc.No.14793-M of 2008, in which the appellant’s application under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for quashing the orders dated 25 July 2007 and 6 November 2007 passed by the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Patiala, granting Rs.10,000/- per month as interim maintenance to the respondent-wife was dismissed.
Facts of the case
The appellant in light to this case had contended that the sum ordered by the Magistrate to the respondent-wife was unjustifiable. The appellant-husband had also raised a concern about the maintainability of the application under Section 125 CrPC due to the respondent’s ability to support herself. On behalf of the respondent-wife, it has been argued that, in light of the appellant’s net salary, the amount assessed by way of interim maintenance by the Magistrate and upheld by the Sessions Judge as well as the High Court could not be said to be excessive, and the fact that the appellant had taken a home loan that was adjusted against his salary is no reason to change the amount, as had been granted.
Supreme Court’s decision
- The Apex Court was of the opinion that the amount granted by way of interim maintenance is on the high side, given that the appellant is getting a sum of around Rs.9000/- in hand after deduction of different sums, including the instalments towards repayment of the house loan. At the same time, the Court could not ignore the fact that the respondent-wife is now unemployed, or that there is no evidence on record that she was employed in any capacity. However, given her qualifications, there was no reason why she shouldn’t be able to support herself in the future.
- The Apex Court modified the learned Magistrate’s order granting Rs.10,000/- per month in interim maintenance to the respondent-wife and directed that the appellant-husband pay the respondent-wife Rs.5000/- per month instead of Rs.10,000/-, with all other terms and conditions as stipulated by the learned Magistrate continuing to apply.
Anu Kaul v. Rajeev Kaul (2009)
The Supreme Court of India was hearing an appeal filed by the respondent-husband in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, aggrieved by the judgement and decree passed by Addl. District Judge (Ad-hoc), Fast Track Court No.3, Faridabad, as the appellant had filed an application under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, for the grant of interim maintenance of Rs. 10,000/- and litigation expenses of Rs. 22,000/-, in the present case of Anu Kaul v. Rajeev Kaul (2009). The appellant confesses in her application that she is working and receives a monthly income of Rs.9,000/-. However, she claims that due to the lis (an action) between the parties, she is obligated to pay Rs.3,000/- in rent to the tenanted premises where she is now residing. She also indicated that her daughter is now grown-up, studying in Senior High School and that her education is being delayed owing to a lack of funding.
Supreme Court’s observation
- The Apex Court did not intend to increase the interim maintenance ordered to the appellant by the High Court during the pendency of the husband’s appeal because she was working and earns Rs.9,000/- per month.
- However, the Court deemed it proper to direct the respondent to pay a sum of Rs.5,000/- per month to the applicant for the maintenance of their daughter during the pendency of the appeals before the High Court, taking into account the child being the daughter of a high-ranking officer, the exorbitant fee structure in good schools, and the cost of living.
- The appeal was disposed of accordingly.
Chaturbhuj v. Sita Bai (2007)
The respondent (Sita Bai) in the present case of Chaturbhuj v. Sita Bai (2007) had filed an application for maintenance from the appellant (Chaturbhuj) under Section 125 of the CrPC. Undisputedly, the appellant and the respondent married nearly four decades ago and had been living apart for more than two decades. She stated in her application that she was jobless and unable to support herself. Appellant had retired as Assistant Director of Agriculture and was receiving a pension of around Rs.8,000/- and a comparable amount in housing rent. Apart from that, he was lending money to individuals at a profit. The appellant sought a maintenance of Rs.10,000/-.
The appellant claimed that the applicant was residing in a home built by the appellant, who had acquired seven bighas of property in Ratlam in the applicant’s name. She rented out the house and lived with one of their sons since 1979. On March 13, 2003, the applicant sold the agricultural land. The profits of the transaction were still in the applicant’s possession. The appellant was receiving a monthly pension of around Rs. 5,700/- and was not paying housing rent on a regular basis. He was being paid between 2,000 and 3,000 rupees every month. In the instant case the Trial Court, the Revisional Court, and the High Court have analysed the evidence and held that the respondent-wife was unable to maintain herself and is therefore eligible for the same.
Supreme Court’s observations
- The Apex Court observed that the purpose of maintenance procedures is to discourage vagrancy by requiring those who can offer assistance to do so for people who are unable to maintain themselves and have a moral right to support. In this scenario, the statement “unable to sustain herself” would refer to the means accessible to the deserted wife while she was still living with her husband, and would not include the woman’s efforts to subsist the following desertion.
- The Court further noted that in the hypothetical event of a woman who was surviving by begging, her capacity to support herself would be insufficient. It is also not true to say that the wife was not capable of earning money, but she did not make an attempt to do so. The data on record must be used to determine if the deserted wife was unable to support herself. If the wife’s personal income is insufficient, she can file a claim for maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC. The test is if the wife can sustain herself in the manner in which she was accustomed in the absence of her spouse.
- The appeal was dismissed and the Apex Court did not consider it appropriate to interfere in the same.
Rohtash Singh v. Smt. Ramendri (2000)
The Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Rohtash Singh v. Smt. Ramendri (2000) centred on the question of whether a wife who has been granted a divorce because she deserted her husband can claim maintenance allowance under Section 125 CrPC, and how far can the plea of desertion be considered an effective plea in support of the husband’s refusal to pay her maintenance allowance.
Facts of the case
On the 10th of May, 1990, the petitioner, who is a soldier of the Indian Army, married the respondent. The respondent is stated to have left the petitioner’s family home in 1991 and moved to her father’s home. On the 5th of August, 1991, a notice was given to the respondent for restoration of conjugal rights due to her unwillingness to return. The petitioner filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage based on desertion under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. In her defence, the respondent cited several claims, including maltreatment and cruelty, as well as the petitioner’s demand for Rs. 21,000 in damages and a scooter. On the 28th of May, 1993, during the pendency of the divorce proceedings, the respondent filed an application for maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which was granted by the Family Court, Meerut. The petitioner appealed the Family Court’s decision in Meerut in a revision petition filed in the High Court, but the same was rejected on March 23, 1999.
Supreme Court’s observations
- The respondent continues to be “wife” within the meaning of Section 125 CrPC due to Explanation (b) to Sub-section (1), even if the marital ties were ended by the divorce issued by the Family Court under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- The Court further observed that the respondent is entitled to maintenance as a wife unless she has one of the limitations listed in Section 125 (4) of CrPC. As a divorced woman also, she has the right to seek maintenance from the person with whom she was previously married. A woman after divorce becomes destitute. If she is unable to support herself or remains unmarried, the man who was formerly her husband will still be obligated to give her support.
In marital conflicts, the maintenance idea aims to return the woman to the same level of comfort and lifestyle that she had before the marriage. In India, there is no set amount of maintenance that a husband must give his wife, and the amount of maintenance that the husband must pay, whether monthly or in one lump payment, is determined at the discretion of a family court. Wife maintenance is a tricky topic under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and it has been regarded as a manner of taking advantage of the husband by asking for food for life. Thus, the judiciary is the only reliance in such matters and therefore the purpose behind this article is to highlight the view of the Supreme Court of India with respect to maintenance of the wife by their husbands.
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