Liability of In-Law for Maintenance 

    A home is often a place where the father, mother, their son, and his wife are all living together happily in their house, where they all stayed, but everything was owned by the father or we can say that the house legally belongs to him. After few years, differences arose between the son and his wife. Due to the rising tensions, now, the father wants his daughter-in-law to leave the house. Here, the question arises as to whether the daughter-in-law can be asked to leave the house since the property exclusively belongs to the father. 

    Introduction

    A woman devotes her entire life to her family. After marriage, a woman has to shoulder several responsibilities. If she is working, she has to maintain her house as well as her job. Apart from this, she is responsible for taking care of everyone in her family. This can be a very lopsided situation and is unfair especially when she learns that she can be removed from her house at any time.

    Now it has a plethora of loose ends which require its solution by our Hon’ble courts lest they be misused or not used as the case may be. A case in point is the Domestic Violence Act 2005[1]. 

    Earlier Position of Law 

    As per the Domestic Violence Act 2005, a woman has a right to accommodation in the shared household[2]. The shared household has been a cause of substantial legal dispute. Is it only when the property belongs to the husband or his father or mother?

    The judgment in the case of S.R. Batra v Taruna Batra 2007[3], ‘heaven’ could never be characterized as a daughter-in-law’s shared household if the father or mother are the exclusive owners of the property. Thereby, in any suit for possession, a mandatory injunction filed before a civil court by father or mother based on the title, daughter-in-law can be asked to leave for want of a legal title.

    The only exception when the daughter-in-law could seek residence was when ‘heaven’ was a joint family property, and the son lived as a member ahead of a share in it. The concern here is Mr. Batra was primarily perceived as a bit too harsh. There were also questions of the code having read and ambiguity where there was none and unduly narrowed the scope of protective legislation. 

    Does Daughter-in-law have the right of Residence only? 

    In several courts, it has been held that a daughter-in-law has a right to be in a shared household according to the Domestic Violence Act 2005. Even when the house is not owned by her in-laws and the husband had no ownership rights in the said house. Court also said in a few cases that the woman has a right to residence in such a property as long as a matrimonial relationship with her husband remains the same. However, the Supreme court held that a married woman has no right to acquire the property of her in-laws because that property cannot be treated and considered as shared property. 

    If the Daughter-in-law and Son are Living Separately

    If a house exclusively belongs to her husband’s father or if his son is living separately, then the daughter-in-law has no right to live in her parents-in-law’s property against their wishes if the property is self-acquired.  If the son lives separately from his parents, he is independent and is not dependent on his parents. 

    If the Daughter-in-law is a Widow

    Court also upheld that a widowed daughter-in-law has no right to live with her parents-in-law’s property again if the property is self-acquired. Because they both are living separately, then there is no right residence in the property of in-laws.

    Liability of in-laws for Maintenance.

    The maintenance of a wife is the personal application of the husband. According to Section 4 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956[4], any liability in respect of maintenance of the daughter-in-law in the event of the son’s death cannot be fastened upon the self-acquired property of the parent-in-law. 

    The property is shown exclusively in the parents’ name and cannot be the subject matter of any attachment or enforcement of any right to maintain the wife against her husband.

    Delhi High Court laid the path with its Progressive Judgments.

    In Delhi High Court judgments Eveneet Singh v. Prashant Chaudhari 2010 [5], Preeti Satija v. Raj Kumari and Anr. 2014 [6] and Navneet Arora v. Surender Kaur and Others 2014 [7], which delivered its progressive views, held that residential rights of the daughter-in-law are not ‘dependent on the title but mere factum of residence.’ These judgments were held before the case of Satish Chandra Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja 2020 [8] and after the S.R Batra v. Taruna Batra 2007 with its progressive views.

    In the case of Vinay Verma v. Kanika Pasricha & Anr. 2019 [9], the Delhi High court has laid down specific guidelines to determine who should bear the responsibility of providing accommodation to the daughter-in-law, whether it was her in-laws or her husband. Nevertheless, the court did not provide the daughter-in-law a right of residence in the shared household if the father is proved to be the owner. 

    Analysis of the case of Satish Chandra Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja:

    Facts

    A matter arose out of a marital dispute between Mr. Raveen Ahuja and Mrs. Sneha Ahuja. Satish Chandra, who happens to be the father-in-law of Mrs. Sneha Ahuja and also the appellant, in this case, had purchased house number D-1077 in Friends Colony New Delhi. Appellant’s wife, son (Raveen), and daughter-in-law(Sneha) living in the said premises. The appellant and his wife decided to stay on the ground floor, and his son and daughter-in-law agreed to stay on the first floor of the premises.

    Later Raveen moved out of the first floor and started staying in the guest room of the ground floor and filed a divorce petition on 28 November 2014 under section 13(1)(ia) and (iii)  Hindu Marriage Act 1955[10] on the ground that Sneha had treated him with cruelty. After this, Sneha applied Section 12 of the Protection of Women from the Domestic Violence Act 2005, alleging that she had been subjected to severe emotional and mental abuse.

    Background 

    Ahuja had stated that the property belonged to him, and neither his son nor his daughter-in-law had any ownership rights over it. This led to passing an order asking a woman to vacate the premises. 

    Where the husband filed a separate case for the decree of divorce against his wife, and his wife had filed a criminal complaint under domestic violence law against the husband, her father-in-law(Mr. Ahuja), and the mother-in-law. 

    Later the criminal court passed the interim order under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, declaring that she not be dispossessed until further orders. Her father-in-law then filed a civil suit and got a decree for eviction. The Supreme court concurred with the High court’s finding, which had said that in all the cases, the husband of the woman needed to be made parties by the trial court by invoking its ‘suo moto powers under the Civil Procedure Code [11].

    https://legalreadings.com/state-subsidies-and-the-conception-of-law/ 

    Few questions arise in this case. 

    1. If the Father-in-law is the owner, how long can the Daughter-in-law reside in the shared household? 

    In a suit for possession or mandatory injunction, if the father-in-law becomes successful in proving himself as the owner of the shared household, the daughter-in-law will be able to reside on the property up until the son provides for an alternative accommodation of the same level for rent instead of it[12]. 

    1. How will the decree in favor of Father-in-law be Executed?

    Earlier, as per the Batra case, the Civil Court was simply issuing a warrant of possession once the father-in-law proved that he is an exclusive owner of the property where the family has been living. The Civil Court did not decide on the right of residents of the daughter-in-law.

    Now applying the logic used in the Ahuja case, the Civil Court will have to decree the suit of eviction in favor of the father-in-law that the son will provide an alternate accommodation for rent instead of it. However, there is no clarity about what will happen if the husband commits default in rent payment. Presuming after the duration of six months, will the possession of the daughter-in-law be restored in the shared household? For how long will the order of precedence under Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act[13] continue, considering the order was deemed to be transient in nature? These important questions remain unanswered.

    1. Issue of the Right of Residence to be considered by the Civil Court

    The court held that in a suit for possession or mandatory injunction by father-in-law, the Civil court has to decide on the rights of residence of the daughter-in-law. It cannot turn a blind eye to the daughter-in-law’s residential right and simply award possession in favor of the father-in-law, who is the exclusive owner of the property. This will ensure the Civil court that the issue of daughter-in-law’s residence is delved into to harmonize the civil right with the ones provided under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

    Furthermore, it is often seen that while the case filed by the father-in-law is pending before the Civil Court, the daughter-in-law relies on the Domestic Violence Act.

    In the criminal proceeding, the most sought-after relief is the interim relief of the residents in the shared household. In view of Ahuja, if the daughter-in-law is successful in availing an interim relief that she cannot be dispossessed from her house, then the Civil Court will have to be mindful of it because otherwise, the relief granted would be futile. Hence, keeping in mind the interim release granted by the Special Court, the Civil Court can balance the right of the parents to enjoy their property and protect the hapless woman. 

    1. Does judgment in the Ahuja case provide a complete Panacea?

    There can be both the answers, yes or no, whether the judgment of Ahuja provides a complete Panacea for all problems relating to women’s rights to the residence.  

    Yes, to solve the problem of the daughter-in-law, as she will not be rendered homeless till the time husband provides for alternative accommodation or pays for rent instead of it.

    No, because of the limited time frame provided for residence for rent. A father-in-law has the right to enjoy the property and generate income from it. Ultimately, the daughter-in-law has to move out of the father-in-law’s self-owned property.

    Judgment

    The High court held that she should be provided with an alternative accommodation as per Section 19(1)(f)[13] of the Domestic Violence Act, which should continue to be delivered to her till the subsistence of her marital relationship.

    The Supreme Court observed that the objective of protecting women from the Domestic Violence Act 2005, was to secure the rights of resentful persons in a domestic relationship and a shared household. Domestic relationships would not just mean the relationship between a second and a wife. It would also include relationships arising out of adoption, consanguinity, etc. It was enumerated in Section 2(f) of the domestic violence act. In the present case, it was beyond doubt that Raveen and Sneha were in a domestic relationship. They were husband and wife, and others were covered under Section 2(f)[14].

    The court took a look to see if Raveen and Sneha were living in a shared household. Section 2(s)[15] of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, enumerates what constitutes a shared household. The court held that the right of occupation of a matrimonial home, which was earlier not part of any statutory law in India, was recognized in the Domestic Violence Act 2005.  The court referred to the judgment Attavar v. Neelam Manmohan Attavar[16], wherein the Supreme court held that the Act was intended to give an entitlement in favor of the women with regards to the right of residence under the shared household irrespective of her having any legal interest in the same. The court observed that even if the household belonged to her father-in-law and Raveen had no share in the house belongings, Sneha had been living on the first floor of the house since marriage in a domestic relationship.

    The court finally held that a wife is entitled to claim the right to residence in a shared household belonging to either the husband or his parents where he stays during the divorce proceedings.

    Verdict of the Supreme Court

    It was held that the relief granted the right to residence to a married woman under the Domestic Violence law by a Criminal court is relevant and can be considered even in a Civil proceeding seeking her eviction from the matrimonial home.[17]

    Deliberating in detail about the provision of the protection of women and the Domestic Violence Act 2005, the apex court said the progress of any society depends on its ability to protect and promote the rights of its women.

    It also says that it guarantees equal rights and privileges to women by the constitution, which has marked the step towards transforming the status of women in this country.[18] 

    A bench comprising justice Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, and M R Shah also termed it as an incorrect law and set aside an earlier judgments interpretation of the “definition of “shared household” under the act and said that the definition was quite exhaustive and intended to provide the residence to the victim women under the law.[19]

    A shared household meets the place where the woman lives in a domestic relationship either separately or along with her husband, and it includes the house owned or occupied. 

    However, the interim order protecting the right to residence of a woman under the law will never come in the way of filing the Civil case related to the property. The pendency of the proceeding under the Domestic Violence Act or any order interim or final passed under the Domestic Violence Act under Section 19[20] regarding the right of residence is not an embargo for initiating for continuing any civil proceedings related to the subject matter of order interim or final pass in proceedings under the domestic violence Act.

    Conclusion

    The Domestic Violence Act was enacted to provide more effectively for protecting the rights of women who are guaranteed under the constitution who are the victims of such violence by her in-laws or her husband. 

    The judgement delivered in the case of Ahuja is a welcome step in the production of women’s rights, but there are specific answers and questions concerning how the final result will be executed. Whether the daughter-in-law’s possession in a shared household be restored in case of failure of charge by the son? Question of the duration of the order of residence under Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act[21]? Hoping that these questions will also be answered soon, but this case brings few justifiable decisions needed for the progressive society. 

    It is secular legislation similar to Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code the word share household/respondents etc. must be given a wide interpretation to affect the parliamentary intention of beneficial legislation for a woman facing this kind of domestic violence. 

    References 

    [1] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

    [2] “Shared Household” Means of the house where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or alone with the respondent this would include rented as well as own properties.

    [3] S.R. Batra v Taruna Batra (2007) 3 SCC 169 AIR 2007 SC 1118.

    [4] Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1955 (Section 4 of 1955)

    1. “Any text rule or interpretation of Hindu Law or any custom or usage as part of that law in force immediately before the commencement of this Act shall cease to affect concerning any matter for which provision is made in this Act.” 
    2. Any other law in force immediately before the commencement of this Act shall cease to apply to Hindus in so far as it is inconsistent with any of the provisions contained in this Act.

    [5] Eveneet Singh v. Prashant Chaudhari, 177 (2011) DLT 124 1 (2011) DMC 239, 8 November 2011.

    [6] Preeti Satija v. Raj Kumari and Anr. 2014 (141) DRJ 295, 15 January 2014.

    [7] Navneet Arora v. Surender Kaur and Others, 2014(213) DLT 611 : 2014(145) DRJ 199, 10 September 2014.

    [8] Satish Chandra Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja, AIR 2020 SC 5397, 15 October 2020.

    [9] Vinay Verma v. Kanika Pasricha & Anr. 1 (2020) DMC 180 (Del) 265 (2019) DLT 211, 29 November 2019.

    [10] Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (Act 25 of 1955) ss. 13(1)(ia), 13(1)(iii) 

    1. Section 13(1)(ia)- after the solemnization of the marriage, treated the petitioner with cruelty; 
    2. Section 13(iii)- Has been incurable of unsound mind, or has been suffering continuously or intermittently from mental disorder of such a kind and to such an extent that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.

    [11] Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

    [12] S.R. Batra v Taruna Batra (2007) 3 SCC 169 ‘Supreme court verdict’.

    [13] Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (Act 43 of 2005) s. 12.

    [14] Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (Section 2(f)- The relationship between two persons full name or have at any point of time lived together in a shared household when they are related by consanguinity marriage or through a relationship like marriage adoption or family members living together as a joint family). 

    [15] Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (Act 43 of 2005) s. 2(s).

    [16] Attavar v. Neelam Manmohan Attavar, AIR 2017 SC 3345, 14 July 2017.

    [17] Ananthakrishnan, The New Indian Express, 16 October 2020.

    [18] Press Trust of India, The Indian Express, 15 January 2015.

    [19] Ibid.

    [20] Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (Act 43 of 2005) s. 19.

    [21] Supra note 13 at 4.


    BY- JUHI MAHESHWARI | NEW LAW COLLEGE

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