Supreme Court upholds woman’s right to maintain her lifestyle after divorce

The Supreme Court of India has ordered a 42-year-old Air India official to pay Rs 40 lakhs lump-sum or Rs 40,000 per month to his estranged wife to enable her to maintain her old lifestyle.

The order marks a departure from the traditional ‘enough to keep her out of poverty’ assessment of the alimony amount and links the latter to the couple’s pre-divorce lifestyle and income.

The Bench of P Sathasivam and Dr BS Chauhan made the order after the woman, Vinny, claimed that the amount was not enough for her to maintain her lifestyle from before the divorce.

She pointed out that she left her high-paying job as an air-hostess in Cathay Pacific at her husband’s instance and is yet to get a stable job. The Rs 20,000 per month alimony, allowed to her by a Bombay family court, would not be enough for her lead a lifestyle which was comparable to what she was leading before even she got married, she said.

She also pointed out that, according to the Form 16 (tax deduction declaration) by her husband’s employer Air India, he was earning close to Rs 7 lakhs a month and a Rs 20,000 alimony was too little.

She argued that her own lifestyle after the divorce should be comparable to the life she was leading before her divorce and Rs 20,000 per month would not enable her to maintain such a lifestyle.

Her arguments had been rejected earlier by the Bombay High Court, but the Supreme Court found merit in them.

In its order doubling her alimony to Rs 40,000 per month (or Rs 40 lakhs in lump-sum,) the Supreme Court noted that the determination of alimony should be linked not just to whether it will be enough to keep the woman’s body and soul together, but also to her pre-divorce lifestyle.

Some earlier Judgments of the Supreme Court had stated that “the wife should be in a position to maintain a standard of living which is neither luxurious nor penurious but what is consistent with status of a family.”

In the current Judgment, the Supreme Court held that it was not enough to look at whether the amount is enough merely to keep the divorcee out of a life of penury.

It said that the alimony, to the extend the estranged husband can support, should enable the woman to lead a lifestyle comparable to her life before her divorce and also before her marriage itself.

“It is relevant to point out that the status of the appellant before her marriage is also one of the relevant factors for determining the amount of maintenance. It is not in dispute that before her marriage with the respondent, she was working as an Air Hostess in Cathay Pacific Airlines and after marriage she resigned from the said post,” the Bench said.

The Court gave Parmvir Parmar, who has since remarried and has a child, six months to clear his ‘dues’ according to the new alimony amount and to pay Rs 40 lakhs if he wished to be rid of the monthly obligation.

According to the Hindu Marriage Act, alimony is to be paid till as long as the divorcee remains single and does not have sexual relations with others. The alimony gets canceled or modified if the financial situation of either parties changes, for the better or the worse.

If the woman, for example, gets a high-paying job, the husband can move an application to stop paying alimony.