Wife can be liable for contempt for breach of Settlement Agreement

In mutual consent divorce cases, the wife’s side and the husband’s side first enter into a settlement. They then file the first motion divorce petition, followed by the second motion divorce petition. Once the statements are recorded in the first motion divorce petition and a significant amount of money is given in the first motion itself, I have observed that, in many cases, the wife changes her mind. She then thinks that if she backs out from the second motion petition and demands more money from the husband, she could secure a more favorable settlement and extort more money from his misery. This practice has become quite common these days.

Here is the legal solution to this problem: filing for contempt of court. How is contempt of court maintainable in such circumstances? Under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, the wife has given an undertaking that she will be bound by the settlement deed, which is exhibited in her statement. Once she has given the statement to the court, she is bound by it and it is treated as an undertaking given to the court when she files the first motion petition.

There are case law examples where there has been a successful prosecution of the wife when such proceedings take place. One such example is the case of Anurag Goyal vs. Chavi Agarwal. In this case, the court held that while the court cannot compel the respondent to file a second motion petition for obtaining divorce by mutual consent under Section 13(B)(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), the remaining terms of the settlement agreement continue to bind the respondent and are not rendered redundant. The violation of the respondent’s admission made in her pleadings and written submissions, stating that she has decided to renege on the settlement agreement because she is struggling for funds and finances for herself and her parents, clearly evidences that the respondent is retracting from the settlement agreement only due to her dissatisfaction with the financial settlement.

The respondent’s conduct in seeking to pursue legal proceedings for securing a more lucrative financial settlement is clear evidence of abuse of the legal process and is not a bona fide ground for retracting from the settlement agreement. The undertaking given to the court binds the party, and having given such an undertaking, the respondent is not at liberty to retract from it, treating it like an ordinary contract. By failing to honor her undertaking, the respondent is lowering the authority of the court and interfering with the administration of justice. Consequently, the respondent is willfully violating the settlement agreement and acting in breach of her undertaking, and is therefore held guilty of contempt under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.