NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has set a benchmark for maintenance to be paid by a husband to his estranged wife, stating that 25% of his net salary might constitute a “just and proper” amount as alimony.
A bench of Justices R Banumathi and M M Santanagoudar made the observation while directing a resident of West Bengal’s Hoogly, earning Rs 95,527 a month, to set aside Rs 20,000 as maintenance for his former wife and their son, turning down the man’s plea that the amount was excessive. The court said the amount of maintenance or permanent alimony must be sufficient to ensure that a woman lived with dignity after separating from her husband.
Its order came on the man’s plea challenging a Calcutta high court order directing him to pay her Rs 23,000 per month. Though the apex court said there was nothing amiss in the high court order, it reduced the amount by Rs 3,000 on the ground that the man had remarried and hence needed to provide for his new family.
“Twenty-five per cent of the husband’s net salary would be just and proper to be awarded as maintenance to the (former) wife. The amount of permanent alimony awarded to her must be befitting the status of the parties and the capacity of the spouse to pay maintenance, which is always dependant on the factual situation of the case… and the court would be justified in moulding the claim for maintenance passed on various factors,” the bench said.
While stating that the high court was justified in enhancing the maintenance on the basis of the husband’s salary, the SC bench noted : “However, since the appellant has also got married a second time and has a child from the second marriage, we think it proper to reduce the amount of maintenance of Rs 23,000 to Rs 20,000 per month as maintenance to his (former) wife and son,” the court said.
The couple has been fighting a legal battle over maintenance since 2003 when the district judge fixed the amount at Rs 4,500. The high court, however, awarded Rs 16,000 per month in 2015 and increased it to Rs 23,000 in 2016 as the husband’s salary went up from Rs 63,842 to Rs 95,527.
The apex court’s ruling follows its inclination to protect claims of women in matrimonial disputes affecting their financial status. “A Hindu woman’s right to maintenance is a personal obligation so far as the husband is concerned, and it is his duty to maintain her even if he has no property… . It is well settled that under the Hindu Law, the husband has got a personal obligation to maintain his wife and if he is possessed of properties then his wife is entitled to a right to be maintained out of such properties,” the apex court had said in a judgment it had delivered in 2016.