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Though divorced on grounds of desertion, man must pay ex-wife maintenance: SC

The Supreme Court has held that a woman is entitled to maintenance from her ex-husband even in case of her leaving the marriage or committing adultery, a verdict that liberally interprets an otherwise strict law.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2017 07:54 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Divorce,Chief Justice of India
In an exception to a clause under section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a woman is not entitled to support from her ex-husband in case she deserts him, commits adultery or lives separately voluntarily.

A man will have to pay maintenance to his ex-wife even if he succeeds in divorcing her on the grounds of desertion and adultery, the Supreme Court held on Wednesday.

The ruling assumes significance because the top court departed from the strict interpretation of the law – section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) – and gave it a liberal meaning.

Under the CrPc provision, the court can order a man to give monthly maintenance to his wife if there is sufficient proof that he neglected or refused to keep her. The definition of a wife also includes a woman who has been divorced.

However, under an exception clause, a woman who is living in adultery, deserts her husband, or lives separately by mutual consent, is not entitled to this benefit. If strictly implemented, a woman who is judicially separated from her husband will also not get this relief.

But, the SC bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar said that the purpose of section 125 CrPc was to prevent destitution of women. “One has to see the legislative intent behind the law. It is a beneficial legislation. The interpretation should be to support the cause of the woman,” the bench noted.

The assertion by a three-judge bench is significant because the earlier verdicts by the SC that have taken a consistent liberal view of the law were by two-judge benches. Wednesday’s order by a larger bench reinforces the legal proposition that would be binding in case of any conflicting stand taken in the past.

SC dismissed the petition of a man who challenged a Himachal Pradesh high court order directing him to pay Rs 3,000 every month to his ex-wife. He pleaded that the woman herself had left and there was no neglect on his part.

He based his case on the exception clause of section 125 CrpC and said if a woman cannot get financial assistance during the subsistence of marriage, then how could she demand it after divorce. He also pleaded for a concession on the grounds that he had re-married and had two children to look after.

First Published: Apr 06, 2017 20:27 IST