Taking note of the undue delay in granting maintenance and alimony in divorce cases under the Hindu Marriage Act, the Delhi High Court has directed the lower courts to ensure that the trial in the matrimonial dispute cases be completed within six months as prescribed by the Act.
“No standard uniform practice and procedure is followed by the courts,” noted the court of Justice JR Midha, adding that in most cases, the provisions for interim maintenance and permanent alimony under Section 24 and 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act were not being utilised.
“Section 21-B of the Hindu Marriage Act provides for an expeditious trial — to be concluded within a period of six months. However, the disposal of petitions before the trial courts take many years,” the court said.
“This is matter of serious concern. It was certainly not the intention of the law that parties to a dissolved marriage suffer further misery of starvation in the absence of grant of alimony,” the court said.
Observing that most people resorted to “parallel proceedings” under the better known maintenance provisions under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure code, the court noted that parallel proceedings took more time and deprived the weaker spouse of maintenance.
The maintenance provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act apply to both spouses, meaning that the husband can also claim maintenance from wife at the time of divorce in case it is proved that he does not have sufficient income or assets.The directions have been issue after the court decided to hear nine separate pleas for maintenance filed by women whose husbands had filed for divorce.
The court noted that the disposal of cases had taken a long time, with the oldest of the nine cases dating back to 1996.
The court in its order has now directed that the spouse who files for divorce is required to file his or her affidavits with details of income, assets and expenditure, as required by Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, at the same time as the divorce plea, if they want to claim maintenance.
The respondent party should also file their affidavits within 30 days of the notice being issued, the court said.
Further, in order to protect the spouse who is the respondent in divorce proceedings, and is usually the party which claims maintenance, the court has said lower courts could consider directing the petitioner to deposit money to be paid to the respondent as litigation expenses.
The court has also prescribed that the affidavit and counter affidavit on income must be filed within six weeks of notice being issued on a divorce petition.
“If the disposal of maintenance application is taking time, and the delay is causing hardship, some ad interim maintenance should be granted to the claimant spouse,” the court said.
The court also said the time-table prescribed should be followed for all cases of maintenance under the Hindu Marriage Act, Domestic Violence Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act as well as pleas under Section 125 CrPC.
The district courts have also been asked to file a report on the implementation of the time-table and on whether the suggestions have curbed the delay in matrimonial cases.