Spouses capable of earning should not burden their partner: Delhi High Court [22.11.2023]

"A spouse who chooses to stay idle despite having the potential to earn cannot be allowed to burden the other person with a one-sided responsibility to cover expenses," the Delhi High Court said while reducing the maintenance amount awarded to a woman.

Noting that the wife was voluntarily working as a social worker, irrespective of being a graduate, the court stated that maintenance provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA) are gender neutral.

"The spouse having a reasonable capacity of earning but who chooses to remain unemployed and idle without any sufficient explanation or indicating sincere efforts to gain employment should not be permitted to saddle the other party with one-sided responsibility of meeting out the expenses," a bench led by Justice V Kameshwar Rao said.

The bench further said, "The equivalence does not have to be with mathematical precision but with the objective of providing relief to the spouse by way of maintenance pendente lite and litigation expenses, who is unable to maintain and support during the pendency of proceedings and to ensure that the party should not suffer due to paucity of source of income. The provision is gender neutral and the provisions of Section 24 & 25 of HMA provide for the rights, liabilities and obligations arising from marriage between the parties under HMA."

The observations come at a time when a coordinate bench led by Justice Suresh Kumar Kait in September had similarly interpreted the maintenance provision under HMA, and ruled that the same is not meant to create an army of idle people waiting for benefits to be provided by their partners.

The high court was considering a plea filed by the husband challenging the family court's April, 2022, order directing him to pay his wife maintenance of Rs 30,000 per month as well as litigation expenses of Rs 51,000. The family court, while enhancing the amount, had taken into consideration the affidavit of income, assets and expenditure, had noted that the wife had no independent source of income.

The husband submitted that he was directed to pay maintenance of Rs 2,000 under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (Domestic Violence Act), which was later increased to Rs 30,000 under the Hindu Marriage Act without any change in circumstances. He also mentioned that his wife was working as a receptionist in a hospital and was earning more than Rs 25,000.

23 Nov 2023