The Delhi High Court on Tuesday observed that a spouse, who has a reasonable capacity of earning but chooses to remain unemployed without sufficient explanation should not be permitted to burden the other spouse with expenses in the form of maintenance.
The division bench of Justice V Kameswar Rao and Justice Anoop Kumar Mendiratta made the observation while reducing the maintenance granted by a family court to a wife during the pendency of divorce proceedings filed by her husband.
“The spouse having a reasonable capacity of earning but who chooses to remain unemployed and idle without any sufficient explanation or indicating sincere efforts to gain employment should not be permitted to saddle the other party with one sided responsibility of meeting out the expenses,” the bench said.
The Court added that the amount of maintenance does not have to be calculated with “mathematical precision” but with the objective to provide relief to the spouse who is unable to maintain herself or himself during the pendency of proceedings.
It also noted that the provision for maintenance during the pendency of proceedings under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) is gender-neutral. The provisions of Sections 24 and 25 of HMA provide for rights, liabilities and obligations arising from the marriage between the parties under HMA, it added.
In the appeal before the High Court, the husband had challenged an order directing him to pay ₹30,000 per month to his wife during the pendency of divorce proceedings.
The husband’s counsel contended that he was directed to pay ₹21,000 to his wife under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and the same was enhanced to ₹30,000 in the HMA proceedings.
Citing his low income, the husband submitted that his wife was a graduate from Delhi University and was earlier earning ₹25,000 while working as a receptionist at a hospital.
The Court was told the appellant (husband) has to support his sisters, brother and aged parents, while also repaying the loan taken by him for his brother’s marriage.
In response, the counsel representing the wife said she was merely a social worker and not receiving any salary from the hospital where she presently worked.
Considering the submissions and record, the court found that the husband’s salary after deductions and recoveries was only ₹56,492. It also noted that the Family Court had not given any reasons for enhancing the maintenance payable by him to his estranged wife.
Finding nothing to suggest that the deductions in the husband’s pay were initiated only after litigation between the couple, the Court said his long with his duties towards other family members cannot be ignored.
With regard to the wife’s capacity to earn, the Court said she has a reasonable educational background from Delhi University but “appears to have voluntarily undertaken social work as claimed despite there being no impediment for undertaking a meaningful employment.”
Accordingly, the Court reduced the interim maintenance from ₹30,000 to ₹21,000. However, the Court also said the maintenance will automatically get enhanced by ₹1,500 per month during each succeeding year, considering the inflation and rising prices.
Advocates Aditya Gaur and Krishan Bhardwaj represented the husband
Advocates Sachin Bansal, Arti Sharma, Sakshi Mahajan and Gaurav Chauhan represented the wife.