Delhi High Court: Reiterating the factors to be considered while considering the merits of an application for grant of interim maintenance under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 the Court held that the object behind Section 24 is to provide for maintenance, pendente lite, to a spouse in matrimonial proceedings so that during the pendency of the proceedings the spouse can maintain herself/himself and also have sufficient funds to carry on the litigation and not unduly suffer in the conduct of the case for want of funds. A spouse unable to maintain himself/herself is entitled to maintenance on the principle of equistatus and respect that the spouse would have enjoyed if he/she continued to live with other spouse.
The Court reiterated the factors to be considered while determining the amount of maintenance as laid down in Bharat Hegde v. Saroj Hegde, 2007 SCC Online Del 622 : (2007) 140 DLT 16:
- Status of the parties.
- Reasonable wants of the claimant.
- The independent income and property of the claimant
- The number of persons, the non applicant has to maintain.
- The amount should aid the applicant to live in a similar life style as he/she enjoyed in the matrimonial home.
- Non-applicant’s liabilities, if any.
- Provisions for food, clothing, shelter, education, medical attendance and treatment etc. of the applicant.
- Payment capacity of the non-applicant.
- Some guess work is not ruled out while estimating the income of the non-applicant when all the sources or correct sources are not disclosed.
- The non-applicant to defray the cost of litigation.
- The amount awarded under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code is adjustable against the amount awarded under Section 24 of the Act.
The Division Bench of Pradeep Nandrajog and Pratibha Rani, JJ. held that the court has to necessarily arrive at prima facie determination about the earning capacity of the rival claimants. The determination cannot be made with exactitude; it is essentially interim in nature. Capacity of the other party to earn cannot be taken into consideration – it is only the actual earning of the opposite party on the basis of which relief can be granted. Permanent income and not casual income is relevant. Where there was sufficient means in the husband’s family on the strength of which the husband got married he has to share the burden of supporting his wife during the course of annulment of such marriage
The Court further observed that “the provisions of Section 24 are beneficent in nature and the power is exercised by the court not only out of compassion but also by way of judicial duty so that the indigent spouse may not suffer at the instance of the affluent spouse. The legislature, in its discretion, has not fixed any guideline regarding ceiling limit of maintenance, pendente lite, as in the case of the Divorce Act or the Parsi Marriage Act. The word “support” in Section 24 is not to be narrowly interpreted. It does not mean bare existence. It means that the claimant spouse should have the same comfort as the other. Of course, the section is not intended to bring about arithmetical equality between the two.” [Sujit Kumar v. Vandana, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 4397, decided on August 8, 2016]