In India, the term maintenance
´┐Ż is defined by Section 125 of the
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as well as personal laws. The term ÔÇśmaintenance´┐Ż
in Indian law refers to an entitlement to food, clothes, and shelter, which is
usually available to the wife, children, and parents. The sum may be charged in
one lump sum or monthly installments.
Maintenance claims may be made under the personal laws of people of various
religions, and the proceedings under these personal laws are civil. Section 125
trials, on the other hand, are criminal proceedings that, unlike personal laws,
are summary in nature and extend to all people regardless of caste, creed, or
religion. The aim of such proceedings, on the other hand, is not to punish an
individual for past indifference.
The clause in question was introduced to
discourage vagrancy by requiring those who can help those who are unable to
support themselves and have a moral claim to help. Maintenance may be asserted
either at the transitional stage, i.e. when the case is pending, or at the final
stage, i.e. after the case has concluded.
New Maintenance Guidelines by the Supreme Court of India
In Rajnesh v. Neha,
a Supreme Court division bench laid down detailed guidelines
to regulate maintenance payments in matrimonial cases on November 4, 2020.
Facts of the Case
The Family Court ordered the appellant Rajnesh to pay maintenance to the
respondent Neha and their minor child in this case. He appealed to the Supreme
Court after unsuccessfully challenging the order in the Bombay High Court.
Rajnesh was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay off his debts and make
additional temporary maintenance payments.
The Court determined the following guidelines were required to be covered:
- overlapping authority under separate enactments for payment of maintenance
- payment of interim maintenance,
- the requirements for deciding the quantum of maintenance,
- the date on which maintenance is to be awarded,
- the compliance of maintenance orders while adjudicating this case.
The Questions Answered by the Supreme Court
A plethora of laws dictates maintenance in India. Various personal laws have
maintenance-related provisions, including the Special Marriage Act of 1954, the
Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, and the Defense of Women from Domestic Abuse
Act of 2005. For example, the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956 and
the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, as well as the Code of Criminal Procedure of
1973, and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, allow
Hindu wives to seek maintenance. Each argument will be regarded as a separate
and distinct claim under these rules, resulting in multiplicity of
proceedings and contradictory orders.
Maintenance proceedings under these laws would be separate, and the respondent
would have to comply with multiple maintenance payment orders because
maintenance payments cannot be changed or offset, according to some High Courts,
like Madhya Pradesh and Calcutta. Other High Courts, such as those in Bombay and
Delhi, have ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and have offset or amended payment
orders in the event of multiple lawsuits.
The Court observed that while there is no limit on invoking several laws to
obtain maintenance, it would be inequitable to order the husband to pay
maintenance under each of the proceedings, irrespective of the relief provided
in a previous proceeding, in resolving the controversy resulting from
overlapping jurisdiction. As a result, the partner requesting maintenance must
inform the court whether they have been granted maintenance in a prior or
separate suit. Furthermore, when determining the amount of maintenance, the
court must take into account any prior maintenance order to modify or offset the
The Court has simplified the interim maintenance procedure in light of the
judicial pause in adjudicating interim maintenance proceedings and the common
practice of parties concealing their financial status.
The Court created affidavit templates for parties to use while reporting their
financial situation. It also defined deadlines to prevent delays: the respondent
must file their disclosure within four weeks, and the concerned court must rule
on interim maintenance within four to six months.
Criteria for Assessing Maintenance Amount
The Court admitted that there was no one-size-fits-all method for calculating
the amount of maintenance. It should balance the applicant spouse's interests
with the respondent spouse's financial capability. The Court, on the other hand,
outlined considerations to consider when determining the amount of maintenance
to be paid.
The following items were included on the list:
- The 2 parties status,
- The applicant needs,
- The respondent income and property,
- The claimant liabilities and financial obligations,
- The parties age and job status,
- The parties living arrangements,
- The parties minor children maintenance,
- Any sickness or impairment.
From When Should Maintenance Be Awarded?
In the past, courts have used several measures to determine when maintenance
should be paid to the claimant, including the date the claim was filed, the date
of the court order, and the date the respondent received the notice.
After considering each of these cut-off dates, the Court determined that
awarding maintenance from the date of the application's filing would be in the
applicant's best interests.
Enforcement of Maintenance Orders
The Court devised three methods to address the challenges of implementing
- First, the maintenance orders will be applied in the same manner as a
civil court injunction can, with the court providing civil detention, land
attachment, and other powers
- Second, the court can dismiss the respondent's defence.
- Finally, the court has the authority to begin contempt proceedings. All of these
tools may be used by the court to execute maintenance orders.
The Supreme Court's issuance of the foregoing Guidelines and the framing of the
Affidavit of Disclosure would ensure that the entire process of granting
maintenance to a spouse is streamlined. The Court's consideration of the
country's economic landscape in framing the Affidavit of Disclosure is
especially commendable. The Court attempted to strike a balance between the
parties' rights, responsibilities, and interests in such matrimonial disputes.
The Court's Guidelines and other suggestions aim to ensure that the social
welfare goal of maintenance legislation is properly met and is not diluted by
time lags and procedural irregularities.