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Family Is First

Family Is First

It is a good thing when a man and woman choose to live together as husband and wife. It is a joy to their friends, a warning to their enemies, but only they know the true meaning of it.            -  Homer,  The Odyssey

The recent directive of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to Family Courts across Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh for insisting on affidavit of assets, income and expenditure to be followed in all matrimonial cases involving payment of maintenance to the spouse is expected to benefit many a woman who is otherwise in a disadvantaged position to gather information about her estranged husband’s assets and income before seeking maintenance. The information to be provided in the affidavit includes: (i) the number and kind of vehicles being used by the husband, whether self-owned or by family or company; (ii) the kind of phones being maintained by him; (iii) the credit cards/debit cards and their statements; (iv) details of foreign visits or holiday excursions within India; (v) kind of electrical/electronic gadgetry being used in the household; (vi) details of EMIs/ loan instalments being paid; and (viii) details of investments. That concealment of information would invite penal action or adverse inference against the concerned is aimed at ensuring appropriate alimony.

Yes. Marriage is a sacred institution. One cannot foretell who will marry whom as marriages are said to made in heaven. The husband and wife are expected to respect the eternal bond of matrimony and seldom take the internal matters outside their homes. For the husband, his spiritual duty – which is to maintain his wife, under the Hindu law – continues from the date of marriage, until its dissolution, through a decree of divorce.

In India, reportedly more than 10 million marriages take place every year but a number of such marriages seem to be in trouble due to a number of reasons. Although the total number of matrimonial disputes with estranged relationships pending in courts is unavailable, its adverse impact on affected women, in particular, is a cause for concern. Particularly, when there is a failure of the marriage, life is quite tough for many a separated or abandoned woman, if they fail to get any support or maintenance from their husbands.

A married woman is entitled to interim maintenance during the pendency of court proceedings if her personal income is insufficient to maintain the standard of living she was accustomed to while living with her husband. Such maintenance amounts vary from case to case and are left to the discretion of the Court.

While a Family Court in Mumbai refused to grant interim maintenance to a woman on the ground that she was educationally qualified, the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that even though the wife was drawing more than her husband, she was entitled to interim maintenance. It observed that as per the settled position in law, the wife is entitled to enjoy the same amenities of life as she would have been had she been staying in the matrimonial home. Taking into consideration prices of daily necessities of life, expenses on education of the children who have to meet the challenges of the society and face peer pressure, the husband’s contention that maintenance amount fixed by the Family Court was on the higher side was dismissed by the Court.

More recently, a Supreme Court bench, while disposing of a petition for divorce filed under the Hindu Marriage Act, in respect of a couple who resided for barely two and a half months together after their marriage was solemnised on 23 April 2000 made use of its unique power conferred under Article 142 of the Constitution. Under these special provisions, the Apex Court can extend itself to put a quietus to a dispute in a manner which would befit the facts of the case, to do complete justice between the parties, that is, where at times, law or statute may not provide a remedy. Thus exercising its jurisdiction, it granted a decree of divorce to dissolve the marriage forthwith. Although the spouse was a qualified lawyer, the Court directed the husband to continue paying the monthly maintenance of Rs 7500/- which is to be reconciled between the parties once a decree of divorce is granted.

Even though matrimonial cases get heard in specially designated Family Courts, for a plethora of reasons, some cases drag on for years. Discouraging matrimonial litigation, the Supreme Court, in G.V. Rao vs L.H.V. Prasad & others decided on 6 March 2000 rightly observed that “there has been an outburst of matrimonial disputes in recent times. The marriage is a sacred ceremony, the main purpose of which is to enable the young couple to settle down in life and live peacefully. But little matrimonial skirmishes suddenly erupt which often assume serious proportions resulting in the commission of heinous crimes in which elders of the family are also involved with the result that those who could have counselled and brought about rapprochement are rendered helpless on their being arrayed as accused in the criminal case. There are many other reasons which need not be mentioned here for not encouraging matrimonial litigation so that the parties may ponder over their defaults and terminate their disputes amicably by mutual agreement instead of fighting it out in a court of law where it takes years and years to conclude and in that process, the parties lose their "young" days in chasing their "cases" in different courts.

Marriages break down because of several factors including feelings of resentment, frustration, anger, betrayal, infidelity, apathy, despair, loneliness etc. It can be saved with a little more of adjustment, mutual respect and understanding but there are no quick fixes. As someone said, great memories are the glue that can hold a relationship together.

(Published on 13th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 03)