QUESTION : Discuss the significance of maintenance rights of divorced women considering the recent judgement of Supreme Court of India.

 

ALIMONY GUIDELINES

 

WHAT ?

 Women Maintenance Laws

 

WHY IN NEWS  ?

 

The Supreme Court set down comprehensive guidelines on alimony while hearing a dispute between a Mumbai-based couple.

 

WHAT ARE MAINTENANCE RIGHTS ?

 Maintenance means an amount which husband has to pay to the wife for the Divorce. The main aim is to provide financial independence to the divorced women so as to facilitate convenience. Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Court provides remedy to those who are neglected and seek maintenance. Only a legally wedded woman is considered as a “wife”.

  • According to 2001 census of Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, under Ministry of Home Affairs, around 468,593 individuals got married, out of which 3,331 separated.
  • Divorce statistics in different states according to 2011 census:

 

 IMPORTANT POINTS OF  SC JUDGEMENT :

  • Constitutional safeguards for women:

 o Article 15(3), which states ‘nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children’

 o Article 39, directs state policy towards equal pay and opportunities for both men and women, and protecting the health of women and children

  • The court ruled that an abandoned wife and children will be entitled to ‘maintenance’ from the date she applies for it in a court of law.

 

  • The court outlined specifics, including

 o “Reasonable needs” of a wife and dependent children,

 o Her educational qualification,

 o Whether she has an independent source of income, and

 o If she does, if it is sufficient, to follow for family courts, magistrates and lower courts on alimony cases.

  • Applicable laws: The Court laid down that while women can make a claim for alimony under different laws, including the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Section 125 of the CrPC, or under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

 o Keeping in mind the vastness of India and its inequities, the Court also added how an “order or decree of maintenance” may be enforced under various laws and Section 128 of the CrPC.

 

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JUDGEMENT :

 

  • Given the large and growing percentage of matrimonial litigation, some clarity was necessary. Cases are known to drag on and acquire cobwebs, worsening the misery for vulnerable women.
  • For women in India, especially the poor who are often overlooked in discourses, maintenance laws will mean little if they do not prevent dependent wives and children from “falling into destitution”.
  • Girls are married off early and bear children long before they should. This triggers a state of poor maternal health and is one of the root causes of high levels of child stunting and wasting in India.
  • There is also the possibility of a marriage not working out for varied reasons, leaving the girl or young woman in extreme distress because often she is not financially independent.

 

ON PERMANENT ALIMONY :

 

  • The duration of a marriage should be accounted for while determining the permanent alimony.

 The Judgment came under section 125 Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)

 

      Section 125 of the CrPC –

  It was conceived to ameliorate the agony, anguish, financial suffering of a woman who had left her matrimonial home, so that some suitable arrangements could be made to enable her to sustain herself and the children would include couples living together for years within its ambit.

  Strict proof of marriage should not be a pre-condition for grant of maintenance under this.

 

INHERITANCE RIGHTS OF  A WOMAN UNDER HINDU LAW : 

 

Hindu law permits women to inherit property and gives them equal rights in inheriting property. Before 2005, Hindu women did not have the right to inherit property. In 2005, the Parliament passed the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, which gave women equal rights to inherit property.

 

Hindu women can inherit all types of property:

  • Movable property – Like, jewellery, cash, household items (like furniture, appliances, kitchen items), etc.
  • Immovable property – Like, land, apartments, etc.

 There are two ways in which a Hindu woman can inherit property:

  • If someone leaves you property through a Will – called inheritance through Will
  • If there is no Will, then according to the rules of the Hindu Succession Act – called inheritance through succession.

IMPLICATIONS :

  • These uniform and comprehensive guidelines should be followed by family courts, magistrates and lower courts while hearing applications filed by women seeking maintenance from their estranged husbands.

 

CONCLUSION :

 These norms will hopefully ensure that many women who were dependent on their husbands would not be deprived of their rights after separation. The court has spelt it out clearly: “Maintenance laws have been enacted as a measure of social justice to  provide recourse to dependent wives and children for their financial support so as to prevent them from falling into destitution and vagrancy.” They should therefore be implemented effectively.

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