Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has held that a wife cannot be entitled to seek maintenance from her estranged husband under the Domestic Violence Act unless she has actually been subjected to any of the acts or conduct defined as “domestic violence” under the Act.
In a judgment pronounced earlier last week, Justice Bharati Dangre held that a wife could not be entitled to maintenance under the Act merely because a discord had developed in the marriage.
Instead, the wife, seeking such maintenance, will qualify as an aggrieved person entitled to maintenance only if “she alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent husband.”
Justice Dangre was hearing a petition filed by a city resident challenging a family court order that had awarded a maintenance of Rs 2 lakh per month to his estranged wife.
The petitioner’s lawyer, advocate Seema Sarnaik, told HC that the family court had erred in its order because not only had it failed to come up at a reasonable amount based on the husband’s earnings, but, more importantly, it had failed to assess whether or not the wife fell into the category of aggrieved person as defined by the Act.
Sarnaik told the HC that the couple was married in 1997 and had two children.
Some years ago, the wife had “lost interest” in the marital relationship and had decided to live separately from the husband.
She also had primary custody of both the children.
Her application in the family court seeking maintenance under Section 20 of the Act was based on the primary argument that the husband earned more than Rs 15 lakh per month and that he was liable to ensure that she maintained the same lifestyle as that which she had while staying with him, Sarnaik said.
However, the wife can be the aggrieved person entitled to maintenance as defined under the Act only if she has been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the husband, Sarnaik argued.
The woman’s advocate, Abhijit Sarwate sought that the family court order be upheld since the wife was entitled to a good lifestyle.
Justice Dangre, however, took note of Sarnaik’s argument on the definition of an aggrieved person under the Act.
“The domestic violence mentioned under the Act has a specific meaning assigned to it. It includes any act, omission, or commission, or conduct of the respondent (husband or his family),” Dangre said.
“A court may direct payment of monetary relief to an aggrieved person to help her meet the expenses incurred and loss suffered as a result of an act of such domestic violence,” she said.
Justice Dangre held that, thus, it was clear that “granting of relief was dependent upon one of the most important aspects, namely, that the said relief was being granted to an aggrieved person who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence.”
In the present case, she noted that while the wife had cited the husbands earnings and lifestyle etc, she had not made a single accusation of any act of domestic violence.
She, thus, set aside the family court order.
However, noting that since the wife did not have a permanent source of income, it was the husbands duty to help maintain her, she ordered that the family court relook the case and award an interim maintenance of Rs 25,000 to the wife.