As per a recent report by Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), nearly 1.89 Crore salaried citizens in India have been rendered jobless since April this year. Besides this, several self-employed businessman are equally facing economic challenges due to pandemic and lockdown for nearly five months now.
Where employees haven’t been laid off yet, they have faced massive pay cuts in their take home salaries. While every single individual is struggling to survive, both mentally and physically, The Indian Express throws light on the plight of husbands who have to solely bear the brunt of paying monthly maintenance to their estranged wives as well as children.
As per a July report by the newspaper, family court lawyers are receiving client calls asking them for court’s intervention to either waive off or give partial relief in payment of maintenance. An actor who is currently paying Rs 70,000 per month to his former wife and son shares how this period has been tough on him as well, as he has been out of work throughout the lockdown. He states how he is unable to pay even half the maintenance amount due to lack of income during lockdown.
Family court lawyer Vandana Shah, describing the actor’s background cited,
The wife is a journalist and has a fixed takeaway, even if there may be salary cuts, but in his case, his income was reduced to zero. First, he called me and said he can pay Rs 30,000 in maintenance and now he says he can’t even afford that because he has had no income through the months of lockdown.
Shah also quoted that her client has questioned her:
Why should I continue to pay this amount for daily needs when I am paying for the child’s school fee, extracurricular activities, and travel abroad.
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One must note several judgements by high courts and supreme court where, in an era of equality and equal rights, man is made the sole provider — despite wife earning a fixed monthly income.
Bandra family court in Mumbai is seeing a splurge in contested maintenance cases or recovery of maintenance arrears. While some family court lawyers believe that men often shrug their responsibility of timely maintenance payments to their ex-wives, many also believe that the family court has been strict in cases, wherein husbands do not make timely payments as per order. However, during these unprecedented times, the courts are reviewing the cases on individual basis while concluding sum amounts.
Shah further said,
Bombay High Court has also granted relief to a man who was unable to pay interim maintenance as he had lost his job amidst the lockdown. The court has also reduced the maintenance amount. It’s only going to get worse because judges have also become very spare keeping in mind the pandemic and that people have lost jobs, they are not getting jobs back.
The working of courts has also been affected since they are currently functioning only with 15% staff. Even though the cases are being heard online by the judges, the cases have been prioritised on urgency basis. Fourteen marriage counselors attached to the court have also been carrying out their work through video conferencing.
A court official states how courts have set up counters for verification and no one other than the staff and lawyers are allowed inside the building, that has been following a strict sanitisation protocol. Petitions are filed online and token numbers are allotted for the next day to file documents for verification.
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Cases aiming for waiver or reduction of maintenance amounts have already got family court lawyers formulating interim applications. Lawyer Mridul Kadam has suggested that in such cases, they would have to file an application citing “changed circumstances” and request the court to consider reviewing its earlier application in which the order of maintenance may be passed. Kadam says,
I got a call from a banker who said he could no longer pay the same maintenance amount that he was paying because he has had to take a pay cut. It is easier for a salaried person to show the reduction in his income with a salary certificate but for businessmen, it’s more difficult. Like in the case of a restaurateur, he will have to show that the restaurant was closed for so many months and he had no income.
Lawyer Amit Karkhanis pointed out,
Once the courts reopen fully there will be severed applications for modification of maintenance amounts. They will all seek a cut in maintenance that may be in proportion with the husband’s income. This may, however, be harsh on women.
Women’s rights lawyer Veena Gowda took pot shots at Men saying the pandemic and job losses may be just another excuse for them to shun the payments of maintenance.
The situation will not be in favour of the economically disadvantaged women and it will severely affect them.
In addition, she also said that courts must step in, to ensure some sort of immediate relief for women, stating that it was also a good time to review matrimonial laws. She added,
We really tend to ignore patriarchy when we look at this concept of ‘family’. When we see the pendency of cases in the family court, a lot of them are pendency of recovery of (maintenance) arrears. Even in the middle-class, upper-middle-class, it is becoming an excuse not to pay and harass the woman. They know there is not much the courts are going to do now because their matters won’t come up as urgent.
- One of the Men’s Rights NGO in Delhi had sent a formal letter to high court in April requesting to review the maintenance payments awarded to wives during lockdown
- While deciding maintenance payments, court takes several factors into account – such as lifestyle of parties during marriage, income of husband, equal status to wife that she would have enjoyed in her husband’s matrimonial home
- However, in a situation where the husband himself has either become jobless or his salary has been reduced to great extent, why should a fully-abled estranged wife enjoy earlier benefits by contributing nothing?
- If corona has impacted salaries of men, it has also impacted lavish lifestyles of several women – there is no spending on conveyance or holidays or leisurely activities that the women will be undertaking as of now – Maintenance cannot become an asset building exercise
- It is pitiable when a lawyer thinks that this is an opportunity by men to run away from their responsibility
- On one hand men can be blamed for not paying timely maintenance, on the other, cases also remain pending in courts for years, because women who want to exploit their ex-husbands for life ensure dilatory tactics to keep the case dragging indefinitely
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- Everything is only about women and their problems; what about the mental trauma men face at work with the uncertainty of jobs ahead
- Most men are made to foot bills of their children and on pretext of lockdown, the wives have also disconnected every communication between separated fathers and children
- If women’s rights activists feel matrimonial laws are patriarchal, what have they done till date not to let women depend on men financially after divorce? Alimony is nothing but considering your husband as your economic master for life
- The courts must have reasonable grounds to continue awarding enormous amounts to women who make no effort in becoming self-reliant
- We cannot overlook, as described in the actor’s case above, how a working woman is also enjoying handsome amount, while her husband remains out of work