Delhi HC Rules It Is ‘The Duty Of The Husband’ To Pay Maintenance to Wife, Child
The Delhi High Court has denied a man’s request, in a domestic violence case, to lessen maintenance payments to his estranged wife and minor son, ruling it is “the duty of the husband” to maintain his family, according to a Press Trust of India report published in The Hindu. The man, who says he earns Rs. 40,000 a month and lives on rent, had requested his combined maintenance payment be reduced from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 10,000. His wife disputes his financial situation.
The case isn’t a very remarkable one, but the judges’ words strike at the conflicting norms that govern Indian marriage and divorce in the 21st century. On the one hand, in a relationship in which one partner stays at home (usually the woman) and the other partner works (usually the man), there is a tacit agreement as to whose duty it is to support the family financially. This is the reality for many women, who on the whole are not provided with the education, means or encouragement to be breadwinners for either themselves or others. Additionally, in a case of domestic violence, spouse and child maintenance can also be a form of reparation for what ever reprehensible acts were inflicted on the injured party. In such cases, it does appear to be the duty of the earning and/or abusive spouse to support the other.
Therefore, it is heartening to see the court uphold maintenance payments to the disadvantaged spouse. All around the world, and especially in India, too many estranged or divorced spouses — typically women, typically the sole caregiver and supporter of any children from that marriage — struggle to get their and their children’s due.
But the court’s wording of its ruling could have been better. All of India’s systems of family law include provisions for spouse and child maintenance — most, if not all, use such gender-neutral language. The court chose not to. While it’s likely the justices used phrasing specific to this case, court rulings carry weight outside of their context and often move the needle on social issues. Instead of the using gender-neutral language of the law, the justices used phrasing that normalizes the same patriarchal attitudes that keep women from becoming financially independent or escaping abusive marriages — phrasing that reinforces the tacit flipside of husbands’ obligations: that wives have different duties toward their families, duties that include being dependent.
Is it the duty of the husband to provide for his family? It could be; in this case, and in many others, it certainly seems so. But in an egalitarian society, there should be the potential for financial support to be the duty of both or either spouse. If India is truly going to move toward a time when men and women are equal in the workforce, at home, and before the court, justices will need to watch their words and stick, perhaps, to the letter of the law.