How court assess standard of living in maintenance cases?

The standard of living assessment is the accurate measure of determining the amount of maintainance.

In the maintenance cases there is a tendency to cover up the income so that the maintenance of the husband can be reduced but by assessing the standard of living court can assess maintenance according to standard of living not by the income earned by the husband.

(ii) At present, the issue of interim maintenance is decided on the basis of pleadings, where some amount of guess-work or rough estimation takes place, so as to make a prima facie assessment of the amount to be awarded. It is often seen that both parties submit scanty material, do not disclose the correct details, and suppress vital information, which makes it difficult for the Family Courts to make an objective assessment for grant of interim maintenance. While there is a tendency on the part of the wife to exaggerate her needs, there is a corresponding tendency by the husband to conceal his actual income.

In Bhagwan Dutt v Kamla Devi 6 the Supreme Court held that under Section 125(1) Cr.P.C. only a wife who is “unable to maintain herself” is entitled to seek maintenance. The Court held :

“19. The object of these provisions being to prevent vagrancy and destitution, the Magistrate has to find out as to what is required by the wife to maintain a standard of living which is neither luxurious nor penurious, but is modestly consistent with the status of the family. The needs and requirements of the wife for such moderate living can be fairly determined, only if her separate income, also, is taken into account together with the earnings of the husband and his commitments.” (emphasis supplied) Prior to the amendment of Section 125 in 2001, there was a ceiling on the amount which could be awarded as maintenance, being Rs. 500 “in the whole”.

The monetary relief granted under this section under DV act shall be adequate, fair and reasonable and consistent with the standard of living to which the aggrieved person is accustomed.

Parties may lead oral and documentary evidence with respect to income, expenditure, standard of living, etc. before the concerned Court, for fixing the permanent alimony payable to the spouse.

The factors which would weigh with the Court inter alia are the status of the parties; reasonable needs of the wife and dependant children; whether the applicant is educated and professionally qualified; whether the applicant has any independent source of income; whether the income is sufficient to enable her to maintain the same standard of living as she was accustomed to in her matrimonial home; whether the applicant was employed prior to her marriage; whether she was working during the subsistence of the marriage; whether the wife was required to sacrifice her employment opportunities for nurturing the family, child rearing, and looking after adult members of the family; reasonable costs of litigation for a non-working wife.33 In Manish Jain v Akanksha Jain 34 this Court held that the financial position of the parents of the applicant-wife, would not be material while determining the quantum of maintenance. An order of interim maintenance is conditional on the circumstance that the wife or husband who makes a claim has no independent income, sufficient for her or his support. It is no answer to a claim of maintenance that the wife is educated and could support herself. The court must take into consideration the status of the parties and the capacity of the spouse to pay for her or his support. Maintenance is dependent upon factual situations; the Court should mould the claim for maintenance based on various factors brought before it.

On the other hand, the financial capacity of the husband, his actual income, reasonable expenses for his own maintenance, and dependant family members whom he is obliged to maintain under the law, liabilities if any, would Refer to Jasbir Kaur Sehgal v District Judge, Dehradun & Ors. (1997) 7 SCC 7. Refer to Vinny Paramvir Parmar v Paramvir Parmar (2011) 13 SCC 112.

On the other hand, the financial capacity of the husband, his actual income, reasonable expenses for his own maintenance, and dependant family members whom he is obliged to maintain under the law, liabilities if any, would Refer to Jasbir Kaur Sehgal v District Judge, Dehradun & Ors. (1997) 7 SCC 7. Refer to Vinny Paramvir Parmar v Paramvir Parmar (2011) 13 SCC 112.

(2017) 15 SCC 801.

be required to be taken into consideration, to arrive at the appropriate quantum of maintenance to be paid. The Court must have due regard to the standard of living of the husband, as well as the spiralling inflation rates and high costs of living. The plea of the husband that he does not possess any source of income ipso facto does not absolve him of his moral duty to maintain his wife if he is able bodied and has educational qualifications.35

(ii) A careful and just balance must be drawn between all relevant factors.

The test for determination of maintenance in matrimonial disputes depends on the financial status of the respondent, and the standard of living that the applicant was accustomed to in her matrimonial home.36 The maintenance amount awarded must be reasonable and realistic, and avoid either of the two extremes i.e. maintenance awarded to the wife should neither be so extravagant which becomes oppressive and unbearable for the respondent, nor should it be so meagre that it drives the wife to penury. The sufficiency of the quantum has to be adjudged so that the wife is able to maintain herself with reasonable comfort.

(iv) Section 20(2) of the D.V. Act provides that the monetary relief granted to the aggrieved woman and / or the children must be adequate, fair, reasonable, and consistent with the standard of living to which the aggrieved woman was accustomed to in her matrimonial home.

Reema Salkan v Sumer Singh Salkan (2019) 12 SCC 303.

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