Hon’ble Bombay High Court reiterates gender neutrality of Maintenance Law in India

December 20, 2022
hon-ble Bombay high court

By Devika Mehra and Zahra Naqvi

In a recent judgment titled “Chanda Rathod Vs. Prakashsingh Rathod[1], the Nagpur Bench of the Hon’ble Bombay High Court has held and reaffirmed that Sections 24[2] and 25[3] of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[4] (hereinafter referred to as HMA), which deals with the law of maintenance in India, are gender-neutral provisions and that either a husband or a wife can seek maintenance from their spouse under the same.

Brief facts of the present case:

In the present case, pursuant to matrimonial discords between the parties, the Appellant-wife moved out of her matrimonial house. Subsequently, the Respondent-Husband filed a Petition for Restitution of Conjugal Rights[5] under Section 9 of the HMA. However, despite the same, the parties could not arrive at a consensus and did not resume cohabitation.

The Respondent-Husband then instituted a Divorce Petition before the Family Court, Akola seeking dissolution of the marriage. During the proceedings, the Appellant-Wife appeared and filed her Written Statements along with an application under Section 24 for maintenance pendente lite. Though the appellant-wife had filed an interim application for maintenance pendente lite, the same was not decided and the main petition for divorce was decided in favour of the husband without assigning any reason. The petition for divorce was decided by the Family Court without deciding the interim application for maintenance pendente lite. Section 24 of the HMA, 1955 clearly mandates that an application filed under this section shall be decided within 60 days.

Legal Provisions regulating Law of Maintenance in India

Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[6] (HMA, 1955) is a benevolent provision which was enacted with the object to provide relief by way of maintenance and litigation expenses to the spouse. However, we seldom saw husbands knocking the doors of the Courts seeking relief under this provision, and hence it was deemed most of the times that only wives could apply for maintenance under the Act. Section 24 of the HMA Act, 1955 stipulates as under:-

24. Maintenance pendente lite and expenses of proceedings.—Where in any proceeding under this Act it appears to the court that either the wife or the husband, as the case may be, has no independent income sufficient for her or his support and the necessary expenses of the proceeding, it may, on the application of the wife or the husband, order the respondent to pay to the petitioner the expenses of the proceeding, and monthly during the proceeding such sum as, having regard to the petitioner’s own income and the income of the respondent, it may seem to the court to be reasonable.

[Provided that the application for the payment of the expenses of the proceeding and such monthly sum during the proceeding, shall, as far as possible, be disposed of within sixty days from the date of service of notice on the wife or the husband, as the case may be.]”

The proviso to Section 24 provides a time line of 60 days for disposal of the said application. However, in the present case, without disposing of the interim application the petition was decreed in favour of the husband.

The Respondent-wife alleged that the Learned Family Court proceeded to dispose of the divorce petition without following the time line stipulated under Section 24 of HMA. The opportunity of defending herself was also not given to the appellant-wife.

Aggrieved by the aforesaid, the wife preferred an Appeal[7] against the order of the Learned Family Court, Akola.

Contentions of the Appellant- wife

In her submissions, the Appellant contended that without considering her application for maintenance pendente lite and expenses of proceedings, the impugned Hindu Marriage Petition was disposed of without giving her an opportunity.

It was further contended by the counsel of the Appellant that the learned Trial Court ought to have considered the fact that the Appellant is a resident of Nanded and was required to attend the case at Akola. She also has to maintain two children and therefore her application for grant of maintenance pendente lite and the costs of the proceedings were to be decided as per the stipulated timeline.

Contentions of the Respondent- husband

On the other hand, the Respondent Husband contended that the Appellant wife herself left the matrimonial home after subjecting the former and their children to cruelty. It was further contended that he was directed to pay maintenance to the tune of Rs. 3,000 per month by the Family Court and even the children were in the Appellants wife’s custody.

Hon’ble High Court’s Order and Observations

Observing the material irregularities in the order passed by the Ld. Family Court, the Hon’ble High Court set aside the decree of divorce and remanded back the Divorce Petition bearing no. 113/2018 to the Family Court, Akola to decide afresh by giving an opportunity to both the sides to lead the evidence. A further directive was issued to decide the wife’s Section 24 application as per law.

Sections 24 and 25 of the HMA, 1955 makes provision for maintenance to a party who has no independent income sufficient for his or her support, and necessary expenses.

The Hon’ble High Court held that this is a gender neutral provision where either the wife or the husband may claim maintenance. The pre-requisite is that the person, who is claiming maintenance does not have independent income which is sufficient for her or his support during the pendency of the proceedings.

In view of the aforesaid, it is axiomatic that the Order passed by the Hon’ble High Court has rightfully reaffirmed and reiterated the established position and gender-neutrality of Section 24 of the HMA, 1955, thereby putting to rest a catena of litigation that kept being painstakingly elongated on what was essentially a non-issue.

In view of such reaffirmed interpretation of the aforementioned provisions, and in light of the requirements laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Rajnesh vs. Neha[8], it shall be interesting to see how the determination of the question of ‘independent income sufficient to support oneself’ shall be shaped in Family Courts throughout.

[1] Family Court Appeal No. 04 Of 2022

[2] Section 24 of HMA provides for Maintenance pendente lite and expenses of proceedings

[3] Section 25 of HMA provides for Permanent alimony and maintenance

[4] Supra

[5] Section 9 of the HMA provides for Restitution of conjugal rights i.e. When either the husband or the wife has, without reasonable excuse, withdrawn from the society of the other, the aggrieved party may apply, by petition to the district court, for restitution of conjugal rights.

[6] Act No. 25 of 1955

[7] Supra


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