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Alimony Is A Critical Need For Women & Kids After Divorce, Not A ‘Gender Bias’

Most men speak of alimony as an 'oppressive law against men', but in a social structure where the wife (and kids) could be left without finances in case of a divorce, it is essential.

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Most men speak of alimony as an ‘oppressive law against men’, but in a social structure where the wife (and kids) could be left without finances in case of a divorce, it is essential.

Alimony has been made out to be the biggest bane for men in recent years in India. But considering the way marriages are viewed by society and the prevalent gender divide, isn’t alimony the last shroud of support most women have left? This Supreme Court Judgement ably re-enforces the need for child support and maintenance.

Maintenance is defined in simple language as the financial support paid by one spouse to another post the dissolution of a marriage. Section 125 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, specifies that parents, children, and the spouse all are eligible to claim maintenance, but in real terms it has been more about maintenance payable to a wife by her husband after a divorce. This seems to be raising a lot of eyebrows, and has riled many a male ego in recent times in India.

Men’s Rights Activists in recent years have branded the maintenance laws in the country as means of ‘facilitating extortion’. But in a country where marriages are anything but equal, isn’t their claim too far-fetched? Why should divorce mean that the father has been absolved of all responsibilities regarding his children? And his ex-wife if she has been a homemaker, or not earnng enough to support herself?

The recent Supreme Court ruling enforces this strongly.

‘You cannot divorce your children’

The couple seeking divorce had been living separately since 2019. The husband’s counsel informed the court that a settlement had been reached between the parties during the mediation process, but that the husband sought time to pay the maintenance amount of Rs 4 crores.

Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah who were presiding over the case stated in response to this request, that “You can divorce your wife but you cannot divorce your children as you have given birth to them.”

The husband was granted time until the 1st of September, 2021 to pay the amount of Rs 1 crore and was directed to pay the remaining amount by the 30th of September 2021. The other cases and legal proceedings initiated by the couple against each other were quashed by the Court.

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What does the law say on awarding of maintenance?

A section of the country’s male population has been vociferously shouting out on every platform that divorce and maintenance are being used as ploys by the women to take away all their life savings. They have been receiving societal support and sympathy as well, as the general belief is that “women are making easy money in the process”.

The Supreme Court of India in 2017 set a benchmark that 25% of the husband’s net salary paid by a husband to his estranged wife shall constitute ‘just and fair maintenance’. This is the benchmark limit that is being followed since. In case of a mutual consent divorce, the agreement is mutually agreed between the parties, as in the present case covered here.

The second argument that is most commonly resorted to is that the maintenance provision per se is ‘gender-biased’, as “only a man is burdened with the payment” post-divorce. This is an extremely misleading fact as men can also claim maintenance from their wives if they can prove before the court that they don’t have an independent source of income, or are unable to maintain themselves.

Maintenance is a woman’s right

*Roopa, a girl in her early twenties, got separated from her husband Rupesh within a year of their marriage. Roopa faced mental abuse from Rupesh’s family and no support from him. The couple agreed to a mutual consent divorce to save time. Rupa claimed one-time maintenance of Rs.15 lakh from Rupesh. Rupesh and his family were aghast that the girl had broken the marriage within a year and was demanding such a huge sum to agree to the divorce. Rupesh did waste any time in telling the world he had been swindled.

*Shagun and Prakash had been married for twelve years. In these twelve years, Shagun could not concentrate on her career as she was solely responsible for the household and her children. Hence, though she was salaried, the salary was not sufficient for her sustenance. Now they were headed for a divorce, and Prakash was reluctant to pay maintenance claiming Shagun was earning, and he was only being granted visitation rights over his children.

The above two scenarios may sound extremely familiar to most readers here. You may hear of such cases in your neighborhood, family, or even at work.

In the first case, most people will be quick to brand Roopa a gold digger. But I am curious to know, why this eagerness to shame her? Roopa is a young woman who has been married off in her early twenties, giving her hardly anytime to establish herself professionally. The wedding expenses had been borne entirely by her family. Her wedding had been given precedence over her education. Though the law might say that whatever a woman gets from her family is her stree dhan and belongs to her, the social reality is the stark opposite. Most women have no access to their jewelry or access to a bank account after marriage. In such a situation, when the marriage, which should have acted as her security, did not work, why should she not claim back the money that had been incurred as an expense towards the wedding? Should this not be Roopa’s right even if she was earning a salary? No, these aren’t cases from economically marginalized sections of society, I know of educated men who have refused to give back their wives’ jewelry and property after the marriage came to an end, and I’m sure, so have most of you out there.

In the second case, Shagun is an example of women who have  invested a lot of time, emotional labour, and actual physical labour in their marriage, and has, just like Roopa, missed out on having a better earning career. Caretakers of a patriarchal society have labelled her an opportunistic woman, but I fail to understand – how does she fit the bill? How can a woman who put in more than a decade of her life into a marriage and in the process had to let go of her rightful opportunities be opportunistic?

Marriages are anything but equal in our country. Most women are still doing a mad juggle at balancing work and home, and when the plate overflows it’s her work that takes the hit. It is easy to say that a career should be prioritized at all costs so that she has herself to fall back on in case of anything, but the reality of most homes is harsh. With little to no support and constant taunts, how much can a woman sustain? In such a circumstance if the all-consuming marriage fails, how does the husband get absolved of the responsibility of his wife and children? Isn’t it because of his lack of support and societal prejudices, that the wife is in a dire position?

Divorced women in India are cut a raw deal

Even in 2021, a divorced woman is looked down upon by most sections of the society, and her decision to not endure the unhappy marriage is sadly seen as a sign of ‘arrogance’, as can be seen from this divorced woman’s personal account.

Yes, a wide section of the population and media has been steadily telling the world, that domestic violence laws are exploited India in India by a woman for easy money. But if we compare data from the National Family Health Survey which collects direct responses from women on whether or not they have been subjected to domestic violence, with the data from the National Crime Records Bureau, we can see an under-reporting of domestic violence cases in 70% of the states in India as reported here. This is no attempt to nullify the real ‘false cases’ but to say that they are not the sole reality as is being loudly proclaimed everywhere on social media.

And for those advancing the argument that women have been claiming equality in all spheres, then why should maintenance or alimony in marriage stay? Well, it will stay until the day our marriages truly become equal, and when women are given complete rights over their lives and choices. Until we want to keep women bound to patriarchal practices in the name of ‘tradition’ and continue viewing the ‘ideal women’ with misogynistic lenses, we cannot demand change.

Image source: a still from the short film Ghar ki Murgi

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About the Author

Parvadavardini Sethuraman

A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and curious little princess. I long to see the day when read more...

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