The Supreme court made directions regarding how cases of maintenance in matrimonial disputes should be adjudged. This extraordinary judgement was concerned with the maintenance rights of a wife and her son. The judgement was passed by the Hon’ble J. Indu Malhotra and J. R Subhash Reddy in the matter concerning Rajnesh versus Neha & Another [Criminal Appeal No. 730 of 2020].
The respondent left her matrimonial home in January 2013, shortly after the birth of her son. She filed a petition u/s 125 Cr.P.C. asking for interim maintenance for herself and her minor son. The Family Court awarded so, upon which the husband, Rajnesh, filed an appeal to the Bombay HC, which confirmed the order of the Family Court. The present case was an SLP filed by the husband/appellant to question the validity of the previous orders. The Court granted the leave and ordered the husband to file his Income Tax Returns and further make payments to his wife as interim maintenance, the failure of which would result in Contempt of Court for willful disobedience of the Orders passed.
After declaring the decision, the court found it necessary “to frame guidelines to ensure that there is uniformity and consistency in deciding the same” (such cases). The final directions of the court were as follows :
- Issue of Overlapping Jurisdiction: To avoid the passing of conflicting orders in different proceedings, the court gave the following directions –
- “where successive claims for maintenance are made by a party under different statutes, the Court would consider an adjustment or setoff, of the amount awarded in the previous proceeding/s, while determining whether any further amount is to be awarded in the subsequent proceeding;
- it is made mandatory for the applicant to disclose the previous proceeding and the orders passed therein, in the subsequent proceeding;
- if the order passed in the previous proceeding/s requires any modification or variation, it would be required to be done in the same proceeding.”
- Payment of Interim Maintenance: The court held that in all maintenance proceedings, including pending proceedings before the concerned courts, both the parties should file the Affidavit of Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities as stated in the judgement.
- Date from which maintenance is to be awarded: Maintenance is to be awarded from the date of filing of the application for maintenance.
- Enforcement/Execution of orders of maintenance: The 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. This order can be enforced as a money decree too.
- Criteria for determining quantum of maintenance: The court stated that “The objective of granting interim / permanent alimony is to ensure that the dependent spouse is not reduced to destitution or vagrancy on account of the failure of the marriage, and not as a punishment to the other spouse.”