- The Supreme Court has laid down uniform guidelines for family courts, magistrates and lower courts to follow while hearing the applications filed by women seeking maintenance/alimony from their husbands.
- The judgment was given in a matrimonial case on the question of payment of maintenance by a man to his wife and son under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
- Alimony or maintenance is the financial support (ordered by a court) that a person has to give to their spouse during separation or after divorce.
- There is no provision in the Hindu Marriage Act with respect to the date from which an order of maintenance may be made effective.
- Similarly, Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act, does not provide the date from which the maintenance is to be awarded.
- Section 125(2) of CrPC is the only statutory provision which provides that the Magistrate may award maintenance either from the date of the order, or from the date of application.
- In the absence of a uniform law, there is a vast difference in the practice adopted by the Family Courts in the country, with respect to the date from which maintenance must be awarded.
- Usually maintenance cases have to be settled in 60 days, but in reality, it takes years to settle such cases, due to legal loopholes.
- Due to this, women have to suffer for years during which they do not get the maintenance they deserve.
- The Supreme Court held that wives and children are entitled to alimony/maintenance from the husband from the date they apply for the maintenance in the court.
- In order to prevent the dependent spouse from undergoing financial hardships, it is necessary that maintenance is awarded from the date on which the application is filed.
- Both the applicant wife and the respondent husband have to disclose their assets and liabilities in a maintenance case. Any earlier case filed or pending under any other law should also be revealed in court.
Factors for deciding the amount of maintenance:
- The court ruled that in a marriage of long duration, the duration of the marriage would be a relevant factor in deciding the amount of maintenance.
- On termination of the relationship, if the wife is educated and professionally qualified, but had to give up her employment opportunities to look after the needs of the family, this factor would also be considered.
- The Court noted, that if the wife is earning, it cannot be a reason for not giving maintenance. The Court has to determine whether the income of the wife is sufficient to maintain herself.
- Serious disability or ill health of a spouse, children from the marriage/dependant relative who require constant care and expenditure, would also be a factor while deciding the maintenance amount.
- Strict proof of marriage will not be a pre-condition for grant of maintenance.
Expenses of children:
- The expenses of the children, including their education, basic needs and other vocational activities, should be considered by courts while calculating the alimony.
- Education expenses of the children must be normally paid by the father. If the wife is working and earning sufficiently, the expenses may be shared proportionately between the husband and the wife.
Enforcement of orders of maintenance
- An order of maintenance may be enforced/ executed under Section 28A of the Hindu Marriage Act, Section 20(6) of the Domestic Violence Act or Section 128 of CrPC.
- Further, an order or decree for maintenance may be enforced as a money decree under the Code of Civil Procedure. A decree is a judgement of a court.
- Non-payment of maintenance could lead to arrest and detention of the husband and may even lead to confiscation of his assets and their auction to give maintenance to the wife.