In a shocking court order and one of its kind, the Jharkhand High Court ordered a 20-year-old man to pay monthly maintenance to a girl, with who he was not even legally married. He could not legally marry because he was only 20. But he was still ordered to pay alimony to a girl for a “deemed” marriage.
When the matter reached Supreme Court, this bizarre order even left CJI SA Bobde amused. Subsequently, the Supreme Court judges decided to delve deeper to untangle the legal riddle on Friday.
A Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, heard advocate Rachitta Priyanka Rai with the facts of the petitioner’s case.
Rai’s client was 20-years-old when he eloped with a woman, who was then 18. The matter pertains to 2006 when the duo belonged from the same village in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district.
The couple went to Jamshedpur where they lived together for around a week. When they came back to their village, the petition stated, the panchayat tried to get them married, but a ruckus followed and the wedding never took place.
Despite no marriage taking place, the woman filed two cases against the man – one alleging cruelty, and another demanding maintenance on the ground that their live-in relationship had to be treated as a relationship in the nature of a marriage.
Trial Court & Jharkhand High Court
The trial court, as per the petition filed through Lexolve Partners, sentenced the man to one year in jail under the charge of cruelty. The court further awarded Rs 5,000 to the woman every month as maintenance.
When the man filed appeals against these orders, the Jharkhand High Court dropped the criminal case, holding that since they never got married, the charge of cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code was not made out. But the order to pay maintenance was upheld.
On Friday, Rai commenced her arguments before the bench, which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, highlighting the legal conundrum that surfaced due to the alimony order. She referred to her client’s educational certificate to show he was only 20 at the time of this relationship. Rai questioned,
The law is clear that valid age for a man to marry is 21. When a man cannot enter into a valid wedlock because of the prohibition of age under the law, how can any relationship be treated as a ‘deemed’ marriage if the man is less than 21? How can my client be asked to pay maintenance when he was not even in the legal age to marry?
As reported by Hindustan Times, lawyer added that the high court also erred in treating this as a “domestic” relationship while the couple fled the village, was hiding at different places in Jamshedpur, and lived together only for a week. She contended,
Staying together for just a week cannot be a period good enough to consider this as a proper relationship, let alone treat this as a ‘domestic’ relationship under the law.
At first, the bench was of the view that Rai’s client should pay at least half of the sum ordered as maintenance but the lawyer convinced the judges that the high court order was wrong on several aspects.
Rai’s persuasion made the court stay the order to pay maintenance, while the CJI added:
You may succeed in your case eventually.
Former additional solicitor general Pinky Anand and senior advocate told HT:
The high court seems to have committed a gross error in allowing maintenance in this case. It was at best a short live-in affair.