SC frames guidelines on payment of maintenance

The Division Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justices Indu Malhotra and R Subhash Reddy, while dealing with an issue of overlapping jurisdiction and further to avoid conflicting orders, the bench found it necessary to frame guideline for interim compensation and quantum of maintenance in matrimonial cases to ensure uniformity and consistency in practice adopted by different courts.

To seek assistance on these issues, we have appointed Ms. Anitha Shenoy and Mr. Gopal Sankaranaryanan, Senior Advocates as Amici Curiae.

To overcome the issue of overlapping jurisdiction, and avoid conflicting orders being passed in different proceedings, the court directed that:

  1. In a subsequent maintenance proceeding, the applicant shall disclose the previous maintenance proceeding and the orders passed therein, so that the Court would take into consideration the maintenance already awarded in the previous proceeding, and grant an adjustment or set-off of the said amount.
  2. If the order passed in the previous proceeding requires any modification or variation, the party would be required to move the concerned court in the previous proceeding.

Payment of Interim Maintenance

It is often seen that both parties to the dispute submit scanty material and 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. 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. It has therefore become necessary to lay down a procedure to streamline the proceedings, since a dependant wife, who has no other source of income, has to take recourse to borrowings from her parents / relatives during the interregnum to sustain herself and the minor children, till she begins receiving interim maintenance.

Therefore court made it mandatory for an Affidavit of Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities to be filed by the parties in all maintenance proceedings, including pending proceedings before the concerned Family Court / District Court / Magistrate’s Court, as the case may be, throughout the country. Further to keep the disclosure uniform, the court the Affidavit of Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities and annexed the same at Enclosures I, II and III of thw judgment, as may be applicable.

It further fixed time periods to overcome delay: the respondent is required to file their disclosure within four weeks, and the concerned court must adjudicate the issue of interim maintenance within four to six months.

Criteria for determining the quantum of maintenance
For determining the quantum of maintenance payable to an applicant, the Court shall take into account the criteria enumerated in Part B – III of the judgment.

These factors are however not exhaustive, and the concerned Court may exercise its discretion to consider any other factor/s which may be necessary or of relevance in the facts and circumstances of a case.

Date from which maintenance is to be awarded

The Court held that the maintenance be awarded from the date on which the application was made before the concerned Court. The right to claim maintenance must date back to the date of filing the application, since the period during which the maintenance proceedings remained pending is not within the control of the applicant.

Enforcement of orders of maintenance

The Court held that 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 Cr.P.C., as may be applicable. The order of maintenance may be enforced as a money decree of a civil court as per the provisions of the CPC, more particularly Sections 51, 55, 58, 60 r.w. Order XXI.

To conclude, the two Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice R Subhash Reddy issued detailed and historic guidelines on payment of maintenance in matrimonial matters as stated above. It is rightly acknowledged in this latest, landmark and laudable judgment that, “Maintenance laws have been enacted as a measure of social justice to provide recourse to dependant wives and children for their financial support, so as to prevent them from falling into destitution and vagrancy.” There can be no denying it!

Case: RAJNESH vs. NEHA [Cr. A No. 730 OF 2020]

Coram: Justices Indu Malhotra and R. Subhash Reddy

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