Delhi High Court Emphasizes Gender-Neutral Maintenance Provisions under Hindu Marriage Act

Introduction

In a recent landmark verdict, the Delhi High Court has shed light on the gender-neutral nature of maintenance provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA). The court’s division bench, comprising Justice V Kameswar Rao and Justice Anoop Kumar Mendiratta, delivered this significant ruling when responding to an appeal challenging a family court’s order regarding maintenance.

Brief Facts of the Case

The case involved an appeal by Mr. Chetram Mali against a family court order. The order directed him to pay Rs 30,000 per month to his wife, Ms. Karishma Saini, from the initiation of the divorce petition until its disposal. Additionally, Mr. Mali was also directed to cover litigation expenses amounting to Rs 51,000.

Contentions of the Parties

Mr. Mali, represented by Mr. Aditya Gaur and Mr. Krishan Bhardwaj, contested the order, arguing that the maintenance amount was increased from the initial award of Rs 21,000 under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDV Act). They claimed that there were no substantial changes in circumstances to warrant such an increase. Mr. Mali further stated that he is the sole earner supporting his siblings and aged parents. He had even taken a loan for his brother’s marriage.

On the other hand, Ms. Saini asserted that despite claiming no independent source of income, she held a reasonable educational background as a graduate from Delhi University. The respondent highlighted her voluntary engagement in social work as evidence of her capacity for meaningful employment.

Observations of the Court

The court closely examined the parties’ contentions and made several important observations. Despite Ms. Saini’s claim of no independent income, the court acknowledged her reasonable educational background, having graduated from Delhi University. It also took into account her voluntary engagement in social work, pointing towards her potential for employment.

After thoroughly analyzing the financial details and affidavits of both parties, the court concluded that a maintenance pendente lite of Rs 21,000 per month, as awarded in the PWDV Act proceedings, would be reasonable. The court also upheld the family court’s order to pay the litigation expenses/arrears.

In a broader pronouncement, the Delhi High Court emphasized the gender-neutral nature of Sections 24 and 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act. It declared that these provisions outline the rights, liabilities, and obligations arising from the marriage between the parties under the Act, emphasizing equality and neutrality.

Decision of the Court

Furthermore, taking into account inflation and rising prices, the High Court modified the maintenance amount for the divorce proceedings. Consequently, Mr. Mali would now be required to pay Rs 22,500 per month from January 01, 2024, with subsequent increases to Rs 24,000 per month from January 01, 2025, and so forth until the disposal of the divorce petition.

Chetram Mali vs. Karishma Saini ; MAT.APP.(F.C.) 196/2023, CM. APPL. Nos.34480 & 34482/2023 

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