Context: The Supreme Court set down comprehensive guidelines on alimony while hearing a dispute between a Mumbai-based couple.

Key points of SC Judgment:

  • Constitutional safeguards for women:
    • Article 15(3), which states ‘nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children’
    • Article 39, directs state policy towards equal pay and opportunities for both men and women, and protecting the health of women and children
  • The court ruled that an abandoned wife and children will be entitled to ‘maintenance’ from the date she applies for it in a court of law.
  • The court outlined specifics, including 
    • “Reasonable needs” of a wife and dependent children, 
    • Her educational qualification, 
    • Whether she has an independent source of income, and
    • If she does, if it is sufficient, to follow for family courts, magistrates and lower courts on alimony cases. 
  • Applicable laws: The Court laid down that while women can make a claim for alimony under different laws, including the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Section 125 of the CrPC, or under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
    • Keeping in mind the vastness of India and its inequities, the Court also added how an “order or decree of maintenance” may be enforced under various laws and Section 128 of the CrPC. 

Significance of judgment:

  • Given the large and growing percentage of matrimonial litigation, some clarity was necessary. Cases are known to drag on and acquire cobwebs, worsening the misery for vulnerable women. 
  • For women in India, especially the poor who are often overlooked in discourses, maintenance laws will mean little if they do not prevent dependent wives and children from “falling into destitution”.
  • Girls are married off early and bear children long before they should. This triggers a state of poor maternal health and is one of the root causes of high levels of child stunting and wasting in India. 
  • There is also the possibility of a marriage not working out for varied reasons, leaving the girl or young woman in extreme distress because often she is not financially independent.

Image source: ToI