Rajnesh vs Neha

Rajnesh vs Neha (2021) 2 SCC 324

This case analysis of Rajnesh vs Neha has been meticulously crafted by Vera Causa Legal, the best law firm in Noida. The landmark judgment, pronounced by the Supreme Court of India, addresses crucial aspects of interim maintenance, financial disclosure, and the responsibilities of both parties in matrimonial disputes. Through this analysis, Vera Causa Legal aims to elucidate the legal principles and implications of the case, offering insightful commentary on its impact on family law jurisprudence in India.

INTRODUCTION

The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that, “While there is a tendency on the part of the wife to exaggerate her needs, there is a corresponding tendency by the husband to conceal his actual income.” As a social justice tool, maintenance laws have been enacted to provide dependent wives and children with financial support, keeping them from becoming homeless or vagrants. When a marriage is dissolved, the parties are entitled to various rights, including maintenance. The term “maintenance” has a broad definition. The most appropriate and precise definition of Maintenance Laws in India has been given under Section 3 (b) of the Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956, which reads as under:

In all cases, provisions for food, clothing, residence, education and medical attendance and treatment; in the case of an unmarried daughter, also the reasonable expenses of an incident to her marriage

The laws regarding maintenance laid down the duty of a man to provide maintenance to his parents, wife, and children. The general meaning of maintenance means to support or sustenance. The term maintenance is not defined in the marriage laws of any of the religious communities.

Currently, the legislations dealing with the issue of maintenance are Section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973; Sections 24 and 25 of Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955; Section 18 of Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956; Section 36 and 37 of Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954; and Section 20(1)(d) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (DV Act), 2005.

FACTS OF THE CASE

Respondent no.1, the wife, left the matrimonial home in January 2013 after giving birth to a son. On 2nd September 2013, she filed an application of interim maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC on behalf of herself and her minor son. The family court awarded interim maintenance of Rs 15,000 per month from 1st September 2013; Rs 5000 per month as interim maintenance for the son from 1st  September 2013 to 31st August 2015; and Rs 10000 per month from the 1st September 2015.

The Appellant-husband challenged the order of Family Court before Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench. The High Court dismissed the Writ Petition and affirmed the judgement passed by the Family Court.

The husband was ordered to pay the entire arrears of maintenance at a rate of Rs. 15,000 per month within 12 weeks from the date of the judgment. He was told to continue to make these payments during the pendency of the proceedings under Section 125 of CrPC before the Family Court. In case of failure to comply with these directions, the respondents were entitled to enforce the order under Section 128 of CrPC. The interim maintenance proceedings under Section of 125 of CrPC had been pending for over 7 years.

The Appellant-husband then moved to the Apex Court to impugn the Order passed by the Bombay High Court. The Hon’ble High Court deemed it appropriate that the Family Court decides the substantive application Under Section 125 of CrPC in the present Petition finally, considering the directions/guidelines issued in the given judgment, within a period of 6 months from the date of this judgment.

ISSUE OF OVERLAPPING JURISDICTION

Because each of the legislation offers a unique remedy with a defined goal and purpose, maintenance claims may be made under one or more of them. For example, a Hindu wife could be entitled to maintenance under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA), by using Sections 24 and 25 of the aforementioned Act, as well as in a substantive procedure for either the dissolution of marriage or the restitution of conjugal rights, etc. under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956 (HAMA). While it is true that a party may file a claim with the court under one or more statutes, given the unique and independent nature and purposes of the relief provided by each Act, it is also true that numerous proceedings and contradictory orders would result from these Acts operating simultaneously. The result of this would inevitably be overlapping jurisdiction.

To prevent the Respondent-husband from being forced to abide by successive maintenance orders granted under various statutes, this procedure had to be expedited. For example, if maintenance is awarded in a prior proceeding under Section 125 of CrPC, this payment must be considered when determining the amount awarded under the Hindu Marriage Act in the subsequent proceeding filed for the dissolution of marriage, where an application for maintenance pendente lite is filed under Section 24 of that Act, or for maintenance under Section 25.

The issue of overlapping jurisdictions under the HMA and D.V. Act or CrPC came up for consideration before a division bench of the Delhi High Court wherein the Court held that maintenance granted to an aggrieved person under the D.V. Act, would be in addition to an order of maintenance Under Section 125 of CrPC, or under the HMA. The legislative mandate envisages grant of maintenance to the wife under various statutes. It was not the intention of the legislature that once an order is passed in either of the maintenance proceedings, the order would debar re-adjudication of the issue of maintenance in any other proceeding. With respect to the overlap in both statutes, the Court held

Reading of Section 20(1)(d) of the D.V. Act further shows that the two proceedings are independent of each other and have different scope, though there is an overlap. Insofar as the overlap is concerned, law has catered for that eventuality and laid down that at the time of consideration of an application for grant of maintenance Under Section 12 of the D.V. Act, the maintenance fixed Under Section 125 Code of Criminal Procedure shall be taken into account.”

PAYMENT OF INTERIM MAINTENANCE

The amended Section 125 reads as under:

125. Order for maintenance of wives, children and parents.

(1) If any person having sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain-

(a) his wife, unable to maintain herself, or

(b) his legitimate or illegitimate minor child, whether married or not, unable to maintain itself, or

(c) his legitimate or illegitimate child (not being a married daughter) who has attained majority, where such child is, by reason of any physical or mental abnormality or injury unable to maintain itself, or

(d) his father or mother, unable to maintain himself or herself,

a Magistrate of the first class may, upon proof of such neglect or refusal, order such person to make a monthly allowance for the maintenance of his wife or such child, father or mother, at such monthly rate as such Magistrate thinks fit, and to pay the same to such person as the Magistrate may from time to time direct:

Provided that the Magistrate may order the father of a minor female child referred to in Clause (b) to make such allowance, until she attains her majority, if the Magistrate is satisfied that the husband of such minor female child, if married, is not possessed of sufficient means:

Provided further that the Magistrate may, during the pendency of the proceeding regarding monthly allowance for the maintenance under this sub-section, order such person to make a monthly allow for the interim maintenance of his wife or such child, father or mother, and the expenses of such proceeding which the Magistrate considers reasonable, and to pay the same to such person as the Magistrate may from time to time direct:

Provided also that an application for the monthly allowance for the interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding under the second proviso shall, as far as possible, be disposed of within sixty days from the date of the service of notice of the application to such person.

 Explanation.For the purposes of this Chapter –

(a) “minor” means a person who, under the provisions of the Indian Majority Act, 1875 (9 of 1875); is deemed not to have attained his majority;

(b) “wife” includes a woman who has been divorced by, or has obtained a divorce from, her husband and has not remarried.

(2) Any such allowance for the maintenance or interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding shall be payable from the date of the order, or, if so ordered, from the date of the application for maintenance or interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding, as the case may be.

(3) If any person so ordered fails without sufficient cause to comply with the order, any such Magistrate may, for every breach of the order, issue a warrant for levying the amount due in the manner provided for levying fines, and may sentence such person, for the whole, or any part of each month’s allowance for the maintenance or the interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding, as the case may be, remaining unpaid after the execution of the warrant, to imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or until payment if sooner made:

Provided that no warrant shall be issued for the recovery of any amount due under this Section unless application be made to the Court to levy such amount within a period of one year from the date on which it became due: Provided further that if such person offers to maintain his wife on condition of her living with him, and she refuses to live with him, such Magistrate may consider any grounds of refusal stated by her, and may make an order under this Section notwithstanding such offer, if he is satisfied that there is just ground for so doing.

Husband’s Marriage or Mistress Justifies Wife’s Refusal to Live with Him

(4) No wife shall be entitled to receive an allowance for the maintenance or interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding, as the case may be, from her husband under this Section if she is living in adultery, or if, without any sufficient reason, she refuses to live with her husband, or if they are living separately by mutual consent.

 (5) On proof that any wife in whose favour an order has been made under this Section is living in adultery, or that without sufficient reason she refuses to live with her husband, or that they are living separately by mutual consent, the Magistrate shall cancel the order.

In spite of time frames being prescribed by various statutes for disposal of interim applications, it is a known fact, in practice that in a vast majority of cases, the applications are not disposed of within the time frame prescribed. To address various issues which arise for consideration in applications for grant of maintenance/interim maintenance, it is necessary to frame guidelines to ensure that there is uniformity and consistency in deciding the same. For assistance in framing such guidelines, Ms. Anitha Shenoy and Mr. Gopal Shankaranaryanan, Senior Advocates were appointed as Amici Curiae, who agreed to assist the Court.

Prior to the amendment of Section 125 in 2001, there was a ceiling on the amount which could be awarded as maintenance, being Rs. 500 “in the whole”. In view of the rising costs of living and inflation rates, the ceiling of Rs. 500 was done away by the 2001 Amendment Act. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Amendment Act states that the wife had to wait for several years before being granted maintenance. Consequently, the Amendment Act introduced an express provision for grant of “interim maintenance”. The Magistrate was given the power to order the Respondent to make a monthly allowance towards interim maintenance during the petition’s pendency.

The proviso to Section 24 of the HMA (inserted in 2001 inserted by Act 49 of 2001), and the third proviso to Section 125 Code of Criminal Procedure (inserted in 2001 by Act 50 of 2001) provide that the proceedings for interim maintenance, shall as far as possible, be disposed of within 60 days from the date of service of notice on the contesting spouse. Despite the statutory provisions granting a time-bound period for disposal of proceedings for interim maintenance, we find that applications remain pending for several years in most cases. The delays are caused by various factors, such as a lot of pressure on the Family Courts, repetitive adjournments sought by parties, enormous time taken for completion of pleadings at the interim stage itself, etc. Pendency of applications for maintenance at the interim stage for several years defeats the very object of the legislation.

At present, the issue of interim maintenance is decided based on pleadings, where some amount of guess-work or rough estimation takes place, so as to make a prima facie assessment of the amount to be awarded. It is often seen that both parties submit scanty material, do not disclose the correct details, and suppress vital information, which makes it difficult for the Family Courts to make an objective assessment for grant of interim maintenance.

HOW TO DETERMINE QUANTUM OF MAINTENANCE

The objective of granting interim/permanent alimony is to ensure that the dependent spouse is not reduced to destitution or vagrancy due to the marriage’s failure, and not as a punishment to the other spouse.

There is no direct and fixed formula for fixing the quantum of maintenance. The test for determination of maintenance in matrimonial disputes depends on the financial status of the Respondent, and the standard of living that the Applicant was accustomed to in her matrimonial home. Section 23 of HAMA provides statutory guidance on the criteria for determining the quantum of maintenance.

In determining maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC and Section 24 of the HMA, the court considers a comprehensive set of factors to ensure equitable relief for the claimant.

These factors include assessing the status of the parties involved, the reasonable needs of the claimant, and their independent income and property.

Additionally, the court weighs the financial obligations of the non-applicant towards other dependents, alongside provisions for essential necessities like food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care.

The payment capacity of the non-applicant is crucial, and where income details are incomplete, the court may engage in reasonable estimation.

Further considerations encompass the lifestyle maintained during the marriage, the impact of marital responsibilities on the claimant’s professional and employment opportunities, and the reasonable costs of legal proceedings.

These factors collectively guide the court in arriving at a maintenance award that ensures fair support while reflecting the circumstances and needs of both parties involved in the dispute.

DATE FOR MAINTENANCE AWARD

Section 125(2) of CrPC is the only statutory provision providing that the Magistrate may award maintenance from the date of the order or from the date of application. The divergent views taken by the Family Courts are: first, from the date on which the application for maintenance was filed; second, the date of the order granting maintenance; third, the date on which the summons was served upon the Respondent. The view that maintenance ought to be granted from the date when the application was made, is based on the rationale that the primary object of maintenance laws is to protect a deserted wife and dependent children from destitution and vagrancy.

If maintenance is not paid for 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. The second view that maintenance ought to be awarded from the date of order is based on the premise that the general Rule is to award maintenance from the date of order, and grant of maintenance from the date of application must be the exception. The foundation of this view is based on the interpretation of Section 125(2) of CrPC which provides:

(2) Any such allowance for the maintenance or interim maintenance and expenses for proceeding shall be payable from the date of the order, or, if so ordered, from the date of the application for maintenance or interim maintenance and expenses of proceeding, as the case may be.

Even though a judicial discretion is conferred upon the Court to grant maintenance either from the date of application or from the date of the order in Section 125(2) of CrPC, it would be appropriate to grant maintenance from the date of application in all cases, including Section 125 of CrPC. In the practical working of the provisions relating to maintenance, we find that there is significant delay in disposal of the applications for interim maintenance for years on end. It would therefore be in the interests of justice and fair play that maintenance is awarded from the date of the application.

ENFORCEMENT OF MAINTENANCE ORDERS

Enforcement of the order of maintenance is the most challenging issue, which is encountered by the applicants. If maintenance is not paid in a timely manner, it defeats the very object of the social welfare legislation. Execution petitions usually remain pending for months, if not years, which completely nullifies the object of the law. Some Family Courts have passed orders for “striking off the defense” of the Respondent in case of non-payment of maintenance, so as to facilitate speedy disposal of the maintenance petition.  The Court taking note of the power to strike off the defense of the Respondent, held that:

Law is not that powerless as not to bring the husband to book. If the husband has failed to make the payment of maintenance and litigation expenses to wife, his defense be struck out

Contempt proceedings for willful disobedience may be initiated before the appropriate Court. An order or decree of maintenance may be enforced under Section 28A of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956; Section 20(6) of the D.V. Act; and Section 128 of Code of Criminal Procedure, as may be applicable.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, on the intricate issue of maintenance under various statutes, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has delivered a landmark judgment that underscores the critical role of these laws in upholding social justice within family dynamics. By providing comprehensive guidelines, the Court seeks to harmonize the application of maintenance provisions across different statutes, addressing challenges such as overlapping jurisdictions and delays in adjudication. Emphasizing factors like the financial status of the parties, the reasonable needs of claimants, and the principle of equitable relief, the Court aims to bring clarity and consistency to the determination of maintenance awards.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s directive on the enforcement of maintenance orders highlights the imperative of timely implementation to prevent trouble to the parties and ensure the intended social welfare objectives are met. By offering remedies such as contempt proceedings for non-compliance, the judiciary reaffirms its commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of individuals entitled to maintenance. This landmark judgment thus stands as a guiding principle in family law, balancing the interests of all parties involved while upholding principles of fairness and equity, and ensuring that maintenance laws continue to serve their crucial role in providing essential support and protection to vulnerable individuals in familial relationships.

Written By Katyayani Singh

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