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New Maintenance Guidelines by the Supreme Court of India 2020

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

Overlapping Jurisdiction

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.´┐Ż

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 amount.

Interim Maintenance

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 maintenance orders.
  1. 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
  2. Second, the court can dismiss the respondent's defence.
  3. 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.

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