Section 24 of the Act makes provision for the grant of maintenance pendente lite and expenses of the proceedings to either spouse. Such provision of maintenance in favour of a needy spouse applies irrespective of whether such spouse appeared as iniator of the proceeding or not.
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Once an order is passed under this section, no matter what happens in the petition thereafter, the liability to pay maintenance and expenses of the litigation in respect of the period during which the proceedings were pending cannot be avoided. The subsequent dismissal of the petition does not exonerate the liability already incurred.
After the amendment the following provision shall also be inserted, that the application for the payment of the expenses of the proceeding and such monthly sum during the proceeding shall, as far as possible, be disposed of within sixty days from the date of service of notice on the wife or the husband as the case may be.
In Smt. Shasikala Pandey v. Ramesh Parsad Panday, husband was divisional engineer working in the Liokaro Steel Plant of Steel City, Dhanbad. His wife file a application for granting of interim alimony and expenses of the appeal, which was resisted by the husband. In this case the Court upheld that his wife is entitled for maintenance pendente lite and expenses of proceedings under Section of Hindu Marriage Act.
Object and Scope of the Section:
In Chitralekha v. Ranjit Rai, it was obeserved that the object behind the section is to provide financial assistance to the indigent spouse to maintain himself or herself during the pendency of the proceedings and also to have sufficient fund to defend or carry on the litigation so that the spouse docs not unduly suffer in the conduct of the case for want of funds.
The same view was again expressed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court when it laid down that the object of Section 24 was to ensure that any party to marriage against whom a matrimonial litigation has started docs not suffer injustice on account of his or her poverty. On such applications the court must immediately pass the order so that the cause of the party to marriage does not suffer.
Where any decision could not be taken because the opposite party has been taking or adopting delaying tactics and disabled the court to take a decision. The main petition is decided meanwhile rendering the object of this section ineffective. Even if decision has been given on the main petition, the order on the application under Section 24 can still be passed.
The party standing in need of such relief may cither be petitioner or defendant. The fact that under Section 24 relief can be granted to both the wife and the husband dicates that the legislature intended to make no such distinction. Therefore it would not be reasonable to confine the relief under this section only to the party, who had initiated the original proceeding before the court. So long as the marriage is subsisting the spouse cannot get any maintenance under the Act.
In Laxmibai v. Ayodhya Prasad, the court laid down that the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ used in the section are not to be construed only literally or in the sense of lawful husband and wife but it would also include such person who claims to be husband or wife in so called marriage or marriages not legally recognised.
The court can exercise the power of granting maintenance pendente lite even in the cases of invalid marriages and pass an order of maintenance. This view expressed by the court may encourage persons to file petitions alleging frivolous matrimonial relations and thus procure orders for temporary maintenance. But the court insisted that any other interpretation of the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ would negate the indulging object of the section.
An application under the section is to be considered in the background of the following facts:
(a) The status of the parties to marriage,
(b) Legitimate needs of the claimant, for example, food, clothing, medicine, place of shelter, education, etc.
(c) The own income of the claimant,
(d) Income of respondent,
(e) The number of persons required to be maintained,
The proceeding under this section are not governed by Section 23. Where the wife during the pendency of the petition for judicial separation, makes an application for maintenance and expenses, it cannot be refused to her on the ground that she had been living the life of adultery.
In application of this kind the own conduct of the applicant is out of place and her alleged misconduct would not disentitle her to receive pendente life maintenance. Maintenance pendente lite cannot also be denied on the plea that the said party was guilty of some marital offence. The contention of this kind is against the principal aim of the section which intends to provide financial assistance to the party which is financially dependent on the other side.
In this section the pendente lite maintenance could be claimed by the party for itself not for the children. When the wife claimed maintenance pendente lite for herself as well as for her children in a suit for divorce, the High Court of Orissa ruled that in such cases even children cannot be provided for any grant of maintenance.
Where the court passes an order of maintenance, it becomes the duty of such a party to go on making payment of the amount throughout the continuance of the proceeding, failing which the court can stay the proceeding for the marital reliefs. Even the husband can avail the benefit of the provisions during the pendency of the petition and claim pendente lite maintenance and cost of litigation.
It is generally the wife who depends on such amount of maintenance, but by the use of the word ‘respondents’ in the section, either of the two becomes entitled to apply and claim the pendente lite maintenance. In Amrika Singh v. Smt. Harinder Kaur the court observed that even after close of proceeding under the section the court remains competent to order pendente lite maintenance and expenses of litigation and it cannot be refused simply because the said litigation has ended.
Quantum of Maintenance:
The claimant of maintenance pendente lite is entitled to receive only that much which would suffice for its maintenance and is needed to bear the cost of the proceedings. The amount must be reasonable so as to be adequate enough for legitimate needs and at the same time be also in keeping with the financial resources of the party against whom the order is passed.
Where the wife was not granted sufficient amount to properly contest the petition filed against her and to maintain herself during the course of proceedings as a result of which an ex parte decree was passed against her the Supreme Court set aside the decree and held that the amount of the pendente lite maintenance should be enough to enable her to contest the petition properly.
If any party to the marriage received financial assistance from relatives, friends or elsewhere, it would not create hinderance in his or her way towards recovering maintenance under the section. Similarly the fact that the wife has received money from her relatives or that she is in a position to arrange there for or that she is possessed of jewellery which could be converted to cash would not be relevant for the maintenance of the proceedings under the section or for its rejection.
The amount of maintenance which is granted to the party should be sufficient for his or her living. Interim maintenance would not be allowed where the very factum of marriage is denied by the respondent. In Prasanna Kumar v. Sureshwari, the court ruled that in absence of any special circumstance one fifth of the entire income of the husband’s income must be parted by him towards maintenance of his wife.
In Banka v. Nawal Banka, the court held that, ad interim maintenance fixation of quantum court has to strike a balance in the standard of life between both the husband and wife and has to ensure that such standard of life for wife is secured during pendency of matrimonial case.