Almost every day, we hear the news that a son turned his parents out of the home or left his parents at old age home. If a wife asks or forcing her husband to leave his parents for money is totally unjust and unacceptable. Additionally, even daughters are liable to maintain their parents.
In case a woman’s in-laws prevent her from fulfilling her duties/obligations, she can also take legal action against them. The following judgment is a significant step towards changing this pattern. In India, our social values and traditions teach us that we should live with our parents and take care of them until the day of their death. To fortify these values and traditions,
the Supreme Court has also held that even married daughters are liable to maintain their parents even after their marriage.
in the recent case of Narendra v. K. Meena Civil Appeal No. 3253 of 2008
The husband married the wife on 26th February 1992. Out of the wedlock, a daughter named Ranjitha was born on 13th November 1993. The reason for filing the divorce petition was that the wife had become cruel because of her highly suspicious nature and she used to level absolutely frivolous but serious allegations against him regarding his character and more particularly about his extra-marital relationship.
Moreover, the wife wanted the husband to leave his parents and other family members and get separated from them so that the wife can live independently.
Another important allegation was that the wife would very often threaten the husband that she would commit suicide. On 2nd July 1995, she picked up a quarrel with the husband, went to the bathroom, locked the door from inside and poured kerosene on her body, and attempted to commit suicide.
On getting the smell of kerosene coming from the bathroom, the husband, husband’s elder brother, and some of the neighbors broke open the door of the bathroom and prevented the wife from committing suicide.
Observations of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court observed that the allegations with regard to the character of the husband and the extra-marital affair with a maid were taken very seriously by the Family Court, but the High Court did not give much importance to the false allegations made.
The constant persuasion by the wife for getting separated from the parents of the husband and constraining him to live separately and only with her was also not considered to be of any importance by the High Court. No importance was given to the incident with regard to an attempt to commit suicide made by the wife.
1. With regard to an attempt to commit suicide by the wife, the Supreme Court observed that upon perusal of the evidence of the witnesses, the findings arrived at by the trial court to the effect that the wife had locked herself in the bathroom and had poured kerosene on herself so as to commit suicide, are not in dispute.
Had she been successful in her attempt to commit suicide, then one can foresee the consequences and the plight of the husband because in that event the husband would have been put to immense difficulties because of the legal provisions. The mere idea with regard to facing legal consequences would put a husband under tremendous stress.
The Supreme Court further observed that in our opinion, only this one event was sufficient for the husband to get a decree of divorce on the ground of cruelty. Supreme Court mentioned the case of Pankaj Mahajan v. Dimple @ Kajal (2011) 12 SCC 1 filed by a local divorce lawyer, wherein it was held that threats to commit suicide amounts to cruelty.
2. Regarding wanting the husband to get separated from his family, the Supreme Court observed that the evidence shows that the family was virtually maintained from the income of the husband. It is not a common practice or desirable culture for a Hindu son in India to get separated from the parents upon getting married at the instance of the wife, especially when the son is the only earning member in the family.
A son, brought up and given education by his parents, has a moral and legal obligation to take care and maintain the parents, when they become old and when they have either no income or have a meager income. In India, generally, people do not subscribe to western thought, where, upon getting married or attaining majority, the son gets separated from the family.
In normal circumstances, a wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after the marriage. She becomes integral to and forms part of the family of the husband and normally without any justifiable strong reason; she would never insist that her husband should get separated from the family and live only with her.
In the instant case, upon the appreciation of the evidence, the trial Court came to the conclusion that merely for monetary considerations, the wife wanted to get her husband separated from his family. The averment of the wife was to the effect that the income of the husband was also spent on maintaining his family. The said grievance of the wife is absolutely unjustified.
There is no other reason for which she wanted the husband to be separated from the family– the sole reason was to enjoy the income of the husband. Unfortunately, the High Court considered this to be a justifiable reason. In the opinion of the High Court, the wife had a legitimate expectation to see that the income of her husband is used for her and not for the family members of the husband.
Further, the Supreme Court observed that it does not see any reason to justify the said view of the High Court. If a wife makes an attempt to deviate from the normal practice and normal custom of the society, she must have some justifiable reason for that and in this case, we do not find any justifiable reason, except monetary consideration of the wife. The persistent effort of the wife to constrain the husband to be separated from the family would be torturous for the husband and in our opinion, the trial Court was right when it came to the conclusion that this constitutes an act of ‘cruelty’.
3. With regard to the allegations about an extra-marital affair with a maid named Kamla- Supreme Court observed that the re-appreciation of the evidence by the High Court does not appear to be correct. There is sufficient evidence to the effect that there was no maid named Kamla working at the residence of the husband.
Some averment with regard to some relative has been relied upon by the High Court to come to a conclusion that there was a lady named Kamla but the High Court has ignored the fact that the wife had leveled allegations with regard to an extra-marital affair of the husband with the maid and not with someone else. Even if there was some relative named Kamla, who might have visited the husband, there is nothing to substantiate the allegations leveled by the with regard to an extra-marital affair.
Supreme Court further observed that we have carefully gone through the evidence but we could not find any reliable evidence to show that the husband had an extra-marital affair with someone. Except for the baseless and reckless allegations, there is not even the slightest evidence that would suggest that there was something like an affair of the husband with the maid named by the wife. We consider leveling of absolutely false allegations and that too, with regard to an extra-marital life to be quite serious and that can surely be a cause for mental cruelty.
Supreme Court mentioned the case of Vijay Kumar Ramchandra Bhate v. Neela Vijaykumar Bhate, 2003 (6) SCC 334, filed, in which it was held that ‘The position of law in this regard has come to be well settled and declared that leveling disgusting accusations of unchastity and indecent familiarity with a person outside wedlock and allegations of extramarital relationship is a grave assault on the character, honor, reputation, status as well as the health of the wife. Such aspersions of perfidiousness attributed to the wife, viewed in the context of an educated Indian wife and judged by Indian conditions and standards would amount to the worst form of insult and cruelty, sufficient by itself to substantiate cruelty in law, warranting the claim of the wife being allowed.
The Supreme Court quashed the impugned judgment delivered by the High Court and the decree of divorce dated 17th November 2001 passed by the Principal Judge, Family Court, Bangalore in M.C. No.603 of 1995 was restored.
Maintenance of wife
The magistrate may order a person to make monthly allowance for maintenance in a case where any person who despite having sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain – (i) his legitimate or illegitimate minor child who is unable to maintain itself; or (ii) legitimate or illegitimate major child (not being a married daughter) unable to maintain itself due to any physical or mental abnormality/injury; or (iii) married daughter till she attains majority if her husband is not able to maintain her; or (iv) his/her father or mother who are unable to maintain themselves. This section also makes a provision for maintenance during the pendency of proceedings regarding monthly allowance for maintenance. Also, application for interim maintenance during pending proceedings is to be decided by the Magistrate, as far as possible, within sixty days of the date of service of notice of the application to such person. A person who fails to comply with the order of the Magistrate without showing sufficient cause may also be sent to prison. The order of maintenance passed under this section may be altered by the Magistrate on proof of a change in circumstances [Section 127].
During the proceedings under the Act, the court may pass orders with respect to the custody, maintenance, and education of minor children. Under this Act, both parents (father as well as mother or either of them) are liable to maintain the children as ordered by the court. While making such orders, the court takes into account the wishes of the children, as far as possible. Such orders and provisions may be altered from time to time. Any application in respect to maintenance and education of minor children during the pendency of proceedings under the Act has to be decided within sixty days from the date of service of notice on the respondent, as far as possible.
A Hindu male or female is bound to maintain his or her legitimate/illegitimate minor children and aged/infirm parents. Aged or infirm parents (which includes childless stepmothers) or unmarried daughters have to be maintained if they are unable to maintain themselves. Section 23 sub-section (2) states that while determining the amount of maintenance to be awarded to children or aged or infirm parents, the court shall consider the following:
(a) position and status of the parties; (b) reasonable wants of the claimants; (c) if the claimant is living separately, whether the claimant is justified in doing so; (d) claimants income and value of property held by him, if any; etc.
If a person ceases to be a Hindu (changes his religion), he/she cannot claim maintenance under this Act [Section 24]. The amount of maintenance may be modified if there is a change in circumstances warranting so [Section 25].
Under this Act, even the heirs of a deceased Hindu are bound to maintain his/her “dependants” out of his/her estate inherited by them [Section 22]. Dependents include the deceased person’s minor son, unmarried daughter, widowed daughter, minor illegitimate son, minor illegitimate daughter [Section 21].
A divorced Muslim woman is entitled to a reasonable and fair provision and maintenance for children born to her for a period of two years from the respective dates of birth of such children. It does not matter if the children were born before or after the divorce, the former husband is liable to pay maintenance. If the former husband fails to comply with the order passed by the Magistrate without showing sufficient reason, he may have to suffer imprisonment up to one year.
Parent (father or mother whether biological, adoptive or step-father or step-mother, whether senior citizen or not) or Grand-parent who is unable to maintain himself is entitled to claim maintenance from one or more of his adult children (son, daughter, grandson and grand-daughter but does not include a minor). The obligation of the children to maintain their parents extends to such needs of the parents which will allow them to lead a normal life. Additionally, this Act also makes provision for maintenance of childless senior citizens (who have attained the age of sixty years or above) by their relatives. The “relative” means any legal heir of the childless senior citizen who is in possession of his property or would inherit it after his death, but it does not include a minor.
If the parents or senior citizens are incapable of applying for the monthly allowance for maintenance themselves, in that case, an application can be made through any other person or organization authorized by them. Such an application has to be decided by Maintenance Tribunal within a maximum period of 120 days from the date of service of notice to children/relative. If children/relative fails to comply with the orders of the Tribunal, this may result in imprisonment up to one month. [Section 5]. The Tribunal may order the children/relative to make a monthly allowance at a rate deemed fit by the Tribunal. However, the maximum amount of maintenance cannot exceed Rs 10,000 per month. [Section 9]. The order of maintenance may be altered by the Tribunal on proof of a change in circumstances [Section 10].
The husband can take divorce on the ground of wife for forcing the spouse to leave his parents, but it does not disentitle her from getting maintenance from the husband. The wife will only be disentitled when she lives in adultery, remarriage, and bigamy, and certain other conditions.