By Lucy Rana and Devika Mehra
With the ever evolving laws in maintenance, it was imperative for appropriate guidelines to be framed addressing the need for uniformity, consistency, procedural fairness, and time efficiency in disposal of maintenance applications in matrimonial disputes. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Ranjesh vs Neha while framing the guidelines, also set out a comprehensive format for the Affidavit for Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities of each party, which each party is required to file in maintenance cases.
Supreme Court’s Guidelines on Maintenance
The guidelines of the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been divided under the heads as defined herein below:
- The issue of overlapping jurisdiction
It was observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court that differing verdicts on the issue of overlapping jurisdiction, which occurs due to the simultaneous effect and implementation of different statutes wherein maintenance may be claimed, have been passed by various High Courts across India. Certain High Courts, such as the Madhya Pradesh High Court and the Calcutta High Court, observed that each proceeding, wherein maintenance has been claimed under different statutes, could not be set off against each other since each proceeding is different and independent from the other. On the contrary, the High Courts of Delhi and Bombay have observed that adjustment or set-off is a must in case of parallel proceedings of maintenance. Hence, to settle this contradiction for good, the Supreme Court passed the following directions on the issue of overlapping jurisdiction:
- In case of sequential claims made towards maintenance by a party under different statutes, the concerned Courts should consider to adjust or set-off the amount awarded to the concerned Party under one proceeding whilst the Court determines any further amount of maintenance to be awarded, as prayed for before itself;
- The concerned applicant must reveal and disclose, as a mandatory process, all past proceedings and orders passed in the said proceedings, whilst proceeding with a subsequent matter; and
- Where any modification of the order under previous proceeding is required, the Court that passed the said order must be proceeded before for such modification
- Interim Maintenance : How to be paid?
Despite there being a mandate to dispose of proceedings for interim maintenance in a time bound manner, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that such matters remained pending for endless years due to repeated adjournments having been sought by the parties, thereby taking more time than required at the interim stage itself, which defeated the very object of this legislation.
It was further observed that no proper mechanism and format was being followed by Courts for determining the quantum of maintenance, and that it was being decided on insufficient material, incorrect and ambiguous details disclosed, and with important information being suppressed by the parties. Hence, the following directions were laid down by the Hon’ble Court in this regard:
- Every effort towards settlement of these issues must be made before deciding of this matter by the Court on merits, and in this regard, each Court must have a professional marriage counsellor available.
- Both parties must file an Affidavit of Disclosure in all maintenance proceedings, and the affidavit must be filed by both parties simultaneously to avoid giving unwarranted advantage to one party over the other;
- In case the Opposite Party seeks to submit a reply to the Affidavit of Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities of the other Party, it must do so within a maximum period of four weeks, and the Court ought not grant more than two opportunities in this regard. Where the Opposite Party still fails to file the affidavit, the Court may consider deciding the application of the applicant for maintenance on the basis of the affidavit filed by the Applicant.
- On the basis of the information provided by the parties in their respective affidavits, and on the basis of the pleadings filed by both parties, the Courts should asses the amount to be awarded towards maintenance, and if the Courts require any further information from the parties, it may pass necessary orders in this regard.
- If during the pendency of the proceedings, there is a change in the financial status of either party, or there is a change in the relevant circumstances, the party may submit an amended / supplementary affidavit which would be considered by the Court at the time of final determination.
- The Courts must make an endeavour to decide the interim applications within a maximum period of four to six months of the Affidavit of Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities has been filed.
- These directions can be modified by the concerned Court, if the circumstances of a particular case require so. It is left to the judicial discretion of the concerned Court to take necessary action in this regard.
- The Parties can lead evidence, oral or documentary, before the Court to enable the court to fix permanent maintenance payable to the spouse. The duration of the marriage of the Parties, however, must be taken into consideration for determining the permanent maintenance payable.
- There must be made provisions relating to the grant of expenses for the marriage of the children while determining the maintenance payable (where the custody is with the wife). However, these expenses should be determined by taking into account the financial position of the husband and the family customs. However, if there are any investments or trust funds made in favour of the children by the spouse or either of the grandparents, this will be taken into consideration while deciding the final child support quantum.
- Criteria for determining the quantum of maintenance
The Hon’ble Court, while determining the amount of maintenance to be awarded, stated that there is no standard formula that can be followed for such determination, and held that a careful and just balance must be maintained between all factors while awarding reasonable and realistic maintenance. The maintenance amount should neither be so high that it becomes unbearable for the Respondent to pay, nor should it be so nominal that the Applicant’s needs are not sufficed.
In addition to the above, the Hon’ble Court laid down the following factors to be considered for determining the quantum of maintenance:
- The status of the parties;
- Reasonable needs of the wife and dependant children;
- Whether the applicant is educated and professional qualified;
- Whether the applicant has any independent source of income
- Whether the income is sufficient to enable the applicant to maintain the same standard of living as she was accustomed to in her matrimonial home;
- Whether the applicant was employed prior to her marriage;
- Whether she was working during the subsistence of marriage;
- Whether the wife was required to sacrifice her employment opportunities for nurturing the family, child rearing, and looking after adult members of the family;
- Reasonable costs of litigation for a non-working wife;
- Age and employment of parties;
- Duration of marriage;
- Maintenance of minor children;
- Serious disability or ill health of a spouse, child / children from marriage or dependant relative who require constant care and recurrent expenditure, would also be relevant consideration while quantifying maintenance.
The aforesaid re not exhaustive factors and the concerned Court can exercise its discretion to consider any other factors which may be necessary to the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular case.
- Date from which maintenance is to be awarded.
The Court observed that except Section 125(2) CrPC, most statutes were silent on the issue of the date from which maintenance is to be awarded. This has resulted in inconsistencies in the decisions of various courts in this regard. While some Courts held that the maintenance was to be awarded from the date on which the application for maintenance was filed, the other Courts held that such payment should be made from the date of order. Some Courts were also of the view that the payments should be made from the date on which summons were served upon the Respondent.
To settle the above ambiguity, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that in all maintenance cases, including Section 125 CrPC, maintenance is to be awarded from the date the application was made before the concerned Court. This was done with a view to prevent destitution of dependent spouse.
- Enforcement / Execution of orders of maintenance
The Hon’ble Court, in order to avoid the object of the social welfare legislation from being defeated due to pendency of the execution of the orders for maintenance, directed that an order or decree for grant of maintenance can be passed under Section 28A of the Hindu Marriage Act; Section 20(6) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2012; Section 128 of CrPC; or under CPC as may be applicable. It was further held that an order for maintenance may be enforced as a money decree of a civil court as provided by the various provisions of the CPC, including provisions for civil detention, attachment of property, etc. more particularly provided in relevant provisions therein.
The Hon’ble Court also cautioned the Courts that the option of striking off the defence of the respondent, in case of non-payment of maintenance, should be exercised as a last resort and in cases where the conduct of the defaulting party was found to be willful and contumacious. It further provided that contempt proceedings for willful disobedience could also be initiated before the appropriate Court.
- Affidavit of Disclosure
The Hon’ble Supreme Court, with assistance from a few Senior Advocates as amicus curiae and from the National Legal Services Authority, formulated a comprehensive format in which the format is to be filed. The affidavit was carefully drafted recognising India’s vastly divergent demographic profile comprising of metropolitan cities, urban, rural, tribal areas, etc., the Court observed and acknowledged that the Affidavit to be filed by parties of urban areas would be entirely different from one filed by rural or tribal areas. The formats are attached with the judgment as Enclosure I, II, and III.
The affidavit requires parties to disclose their assets, liabilities, income, and other personal information. The affidavit is mandatory to be filed by both parties in all maintenance proceedings.
The above guidelines have been framed with the intention to streamline the process of granting maintenance to the spouse. The Hon’ble Court’s specific attention and regard to the economic condition of the different sectors of the Country is worthy of praise, as it has sought to strike a balance between the rights, obligations, and interest of the parties.
 Criminal Appeal No. 730 of 2020 arising out of SLP (Cri) No. 9503 of 2018). The said case arose out of an application for interim maintenance filed in a petition under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“CrPC”)
 Originally stated in Kusum Sharma vs Mahinder Kumar Sharma [August 6, 2020] by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court