A Karnataka High Court Bench of Justice M Nagaprasanna has issued directions to be followed by Trial Courts regarding the timeline to be followed in deciding applications filed by estranged women seeking maintenance from their husbands under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act.

Senior Counsel Jayna Kothari appeared for the petitioner, while Senior Counsel Udaya Holla appeared for the respondent.

In this case, the petitioner approached the High Court seeking enhancement of the interim maintenance granted by the Family Court, on the ground that it was too meagre to maintain herself.

After the consideration of submissions made and perusal of material on record, the Court framed the issue to be "whether the petitioner/wife is entitled to enhancement / modification in maintenance from what is awarded by the concerned Court?"

The Court noted that "Proviso to Section 24 directs that an application filed under Section 24 seeking maintenance should be disposed as far as possible within 60 days. The term “as far as possible” is being interpreted that the Court can pass orders even after six months in some cases, two years, three years or even four years after filing the application. This delay in considering those applications for maintenance would defeat the very soul of the provision which is to give succor to the wife who leaves or made to leave the matrimonial house on myriad circumstances. Merely, because the provision directs disposal of the application, as far as possible within 60 days, it cannot be stretched to an extent by the Courts to an extent that the wife would not see the amount of maintenance for ages."

In light of the same, it was observed that "It, therefore, becomes necessary for the concerned Court to adhere to a timeline for disposal of the applications seeking maintenance at the hands of the husband when sought by the wife, so that the right to claim maintenance is not rendered illusory." and further observed that "It thus becomes imperative for this Court to issue directions to the concerned courts to adhere to a timeline, in all cases, where applications are filed for maintenance under section 24 of the Act."

The Courts were directed to adhere to the following timeline:

a) Notice on the application be issued immediately. Service through E-mail / What’s App, shall also be valid service in the eye of law.

b) The concerned Court shall grant two months to the husband to file his objections to the application filed by the wife seeking interim maintenance under section 24 of the Act.

c) The wife also should be given the same two months to file statement of assets and liabilities.

d) On the assets and liabilities so filed by the wife, the concerned Court shall consider the contentions of the parties, hear them and pass appropriate orders, within four months thereafter, if not earlier.

e) Therefore, the outer limit to decide any application seeking interim maintenance is six months from the date of its filing.

f) To achieve this timeline, the concerned Court should refrain itself from granting unnecessary adjournments to both the husband and the wife.

g) If the husband or the wife would not co-operate with the closure of the proceedings qua the application for interim maintenance the Court would be free to pass appropriate orders in accordance with law.

h) Any delay beyond six months should be only on reasons recorded in writing in the order that would be passed.

Subsequently, the petition was allowed and the maintenance granted to the petitioner was enhanced by the High Court.

Cause Title: Smt. Pratibha Sigh v. Mr Vineet Kumar

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