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Husbands, take note! Wife’s parents being rich is immaterial for deciding maintenance, says Bombay HC

In these cases, the court has to direct balance between the standard of living of both husband and wife to ensure that the standard of living for the wife is secure doing pendency of the matrimonial dispute.

Husbands, take note! Wife's parents being rich is immaterial for deciding maintenance, says Bombay HC

In India, most arranged marriages are largely defined and impacted by the collective will of two families, which makes it a complicated process at times. Traditionally, most arranged marriages are also a meeting of two families that share similarities in terms of their cultural and socio-economic status. Given the weightage given to factors like social status, property, and prestige while deciding whether to proceed with a marriage alliance, families to take into consideration factors such as the financial security of a prospective groom or bride before proceeding with the proposal.

In a recent case pertaining to a matrimonial dispute where the wife claimed Rs 5 lakh per month as interim maintenance, the Bombay High Court held that even if the parents of the wife are rich, it is irrelevant while deciding her application for interim maintenance. The wife, in this case, had challenged a family court order dated 13th May 2016, that had rejected her interim maintenance application.

The husband’s counsel had defended the family court order on several grounds, pointing out that the wife owned or had interest in a luxury apartment that is valued at Rs. 6 crores, but during the time of the court proceedings, she transferred it to her brother for ‘interim’ maintenance and that she owned jewelry worth Rs 1 crore or above.

It was also argued that the wife’s parents are extremely rich and she too has a considerable income of her own as a French tutor. They pointed out that the wife had also not provided a break-up of her expenses while claiming interim maintenance of Rs 5 lakh per month, it was further pointed out.

The main argument raised by the husband is that the wife, under the given circumstances, had suppressed the above-mentioned information from the court and that she does not need maintenance from him. Her application for interim maintenance, according to the husband’s version, was rightly rejected by the family court in Bandra.

According to a Law Ministry’s report in 2017, there are over 7 lakh divorce cases pending in courts as of December 2017. One of the key areas of concern pertains to the issue of ‘maintenance’, which is usually opposed when it comes up in a court of law.

The silver lining in this case, however, is that there are some notable points from the Bombay High Court judgment in this case where ‘suppression of facts’ was brought up against the wife.

You may be curious to know: How does the court analyze ‘suppression of a fact’ in a matrimonial dispute, where the husband alleges that the wife ‘suppressed facts’?

The Bombay High Court held as follows:

1. Suppression must be of a material fact. The court has to consider “suppression” in its entirety and not by resorting to hairsplitting.

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2. If the explanation is bonafide, the party is not required to face dismissal of the claim.

3. Regarding the flat, the wife had already explained that as she had no independent source of income. So, her father and brother had opted to purchase the flat from her but she transferred it to her brother as a gift deed and no monetary transaction was involved, therefore it cannot be considered ‘malafide.’

The Bombay High Court judgment also relied upon the fact that the wife had indicated her financial status and her husband’s quite clear from the start.

According to the court, the wife had indicated the capital assets she owned and broadly stated to the court why she required the interim maintenance that she had claimed.

The third and fourth reasons cited by the husband, citing that the wife does not need interim maintenance as her parents are rich and she has independent income of her own, the court termed as “entirely untenable” and observed that the “family court has not even adverted to the documents placed on records by both parties” and “this is not at all a correct approach…”

The Bombay High Court, in this case pertaining to interim maintenance, held as follows:

1. The financial position of the wife’s parents is immaterial.

2. It is no answer to a claim of maintenance that a wife who is educated and can support herself financially.

3. The court has to consider the status of the parties (the husband and the wife), their respective needs, the husband’s capacity to pay for his own maintenance and of those he is obliged as per law.

There is no set ‘formula’ for courts to decide the amount of maintenance. However, there are several landmark apex court judgments which show that maintenance should be fixed in such a manner so that the wife can live in reasonable comfort considering her status and mode of life, without being excessive or extortionate.

In these cases, the court has to direct balance between the standard of living of both husband and wife to ensure that the standard of living for the wife is secure doing pendency of the matrimonial dispute.

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