From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Alimony
The Supreme Court has laid down uniform and comprehensive guidelines for family courts, magistrates and lower courts to follow while hearing the applications filed by women seeking maintenance from their estranged husbands’.
Debate: Alimony as a right of women or a feminist taboo
Why such a judgement?
- Usually, maintenance cases have to be settled in 60 days, but they take years, in reality, owing to legal loopholes.
- The top court said women deserted by husbands are left in dire straits, often reduced to destitution, for lack of means to sustain themselves and their children.
- Despite a plethora of maintenance laws, women were left empty-handed for years, struggling to make ends meet after a bad marriage.
What did the Court say?
- The Supreme Court has held that deserted wives and children are entitled to alimony/maintenance from the husbands from the date they apply for it in a court of law.
- To ensure that judicial orders for grant of maintenance are duly enforced by husbands, the court said a violation would lead to punishments such as civil detention and even attachment of the property of the latter.
- The plea of the husband that he does not possess any source of income ipso facto does not absolve him of his moral duty to maintain his wife, if he is able-bodied and has educational qualifications, the court declared.
- Both the applicant wife and the respondent-husband have to disclose their assets and liabilities in a maintenance case.
- Other factors such as “spiralling inflation rates and high costs of living” should be considered, but the wife should receive alimony which fit the standard of life she was used to in the matrimonial home.
- The expenses of the children, including their education, basic needs and other vocational activities, should be factored in by courts while calculating the alimony.
- Education expenses of the children must be normally borne by the father. If the wife is working and earning sufficiently, the expenses may be shared proportionately between the parties.
- The court opined it would not be equitable to order a husband to pay his wife permanent alimony for the rest of her life, considering the fact that in contemporary society marriages do not last for a reasonable length of time.
- Anyway, the court said, the duration of marriage should be accounted for while determining the permanent alimony.