Divorce proceedings can be stayed on non-payment of interim maintenance only if the petition for divorce has been filed by the defaulting party

Kerala High Court: A Division bench comprising of C.K. Abdul Rehim and R. Narayana Pisharadi, JJ. affirmed the order of Family Court striking off defence of the erring husband but set aside the part of order staying proceedings in a divorce petition instituted by the wife, holding the same to be counter-productive in achieving real and substantial justice.

Facts of the case were that the respondent-wife filed a petition for divorce in the Family Court inter alia claiming interim maintenance from the petitioner-husband. The court granted her decree for interim maintenance but the petitioner deliberately disobeyed the court’s order and did not pay maintenance. The Family Court directed petitioner’s defence in the divorce petition to be struck off and to withhold trial till payment of arrears of maintenance. The said order was challenged by the petitioner in the present appeal.

At the outset, the Bench noted that the petitioner had not offered any explanation whatsoever for non-payment of the interim monthly maintenance. Having gone through judgments of various High Courts on the said issue, it was observed that when a party flouts a court order directing payment of interim alimony, thereby putting the other party at a disadvantage, the court is not helpless and it can exercise its power under Section 151 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 to do real and substantial justice. On the said reasoning, it was opined that the Family Court was right in its approach of striking off the defence of petitioner and in staying of the proceedings. However, the court noted that in the instant case, divorce petition had been filed by the wife and as such, staying of proceedings in that case on the ground of non-payment of maintenance by the petitioner-husband would only cause delay in the disposal of the case thereby further adding to the wife’s grievances.

The High Court held that staying of proceedings only in a divorce case instituted by the defaulting party would achieve the object and staying of proceedings in a case instituted by the party to whom the amount is due, would be counter-productive. On the aforesaid reasoning, the order of Family Court striking off defence of petitioner was upheld and the part of order staying the proceedings was set aside. [Maximus Fernandez v. Olga Fernandez, 2018 SCC OnLine Ker 3479, decided on 24-09-2018]

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