Idle spouse with earning capacity shouldn’t burden partner; Says High Court

Delhi HC said that a spouse possessing the capacity to earn but choosing unemployment without valid reasons should not burden partner.

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court emphasized that a spouse possessing the capacity to earn but choosing unemployment without valid reasons should not burden the other partner with the sole responsibility of meeting expenses through maintenance.

The court made this observation while reducing the monthly maintenance amount from Rs 30,000 to Rs 21,000, which a man was directed to pay to his estranged wife under the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA).

The court noted that the wife, despite claiming to have no independent source of income, holds a reasonable educational background as a graduate from Delhi University. The bench, comprising justices V Kameswar Rao and Anoop Kumar Mendiratta, stated, “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 court clarified that the provision for maintenance under the HMA is gender-neutral, and sections 24 and 25 of the Act outline the rights, liabilities, and obligations arising from marriage between the parties.

The case involved a man challenging a trial court’s order directing him to pay Rs 30,000 monthly maintenance and Rs 51,000 as litigation expenses to his estranged wife. The man argued that the trial court had initially set the maintenance at Rs 21,000, which was later increased to Rs 30,000 without any change in circumstances.

The husband, earning Rs 47,000 in-hand salary, claimed it would be financially burdensome for him to pay Rs 30,000 per month. He asserted that his wife, employed at a hospital, earned Rs 25,000 monthly. The wife contended that she worked as a social worker and did not draw a salary from the hospital.

Considering the financial situation of both parties, the high court deemed Rs 21,000 per month as a reasonable maintenance amount until the trial court’s final decision. Additionally, the court allowed an annual increase of Rs 1,500 per month due to inflation during the pendency of divorce proceedings.

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