Able-Bodied Men Can’t Seek Maintenance From Wife: Karnataka HC

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The Karnataka high court observed that under section 24 of the Hindu marriage act, the husband cannot seek any maintenance unless he proves a physical or mental disability that incapacitates him from earning money by finding a job for himself.

“In fact, it is the duty of an able-bodied husband to maintain himself, the wife, and child, if any. The petitioner/husband must remember that “it is better to wear out than rust out,” as Justice Nagaprasanna observed in his order while rejecting the plea.

Karnataka Maintenance Case

The petitioner-husband, a resident of Saluhunase village in Bangalore rural district, had sought Rs. 2 lakhs as maintenance from his wife. “It is not in dispute that a petitioner is an able-bodied man and does not suffer from any disability or infirmity. That being said, if maintenance is awarded to him solely because Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act is gender neutral for grant of maintenance, it would promote idleness, despite the fact that the husband has no impediment or handicap to earn”, Justice Nagaprasanna stated in his order.

The petitioner claimed that he had lost his job and was therefore in need of maintenance from his wife, but the judge said that merely because he lost his job on the onset of COVID-19 doesn’t make him incapable of earning.

“It can be irrefutably concluded that the husband, by his own conduct, has decided to lead a leisurely life by seeking maintenance from the hands of the wife. Such an application cannot be granted, as the husband cannot afford to incapacitate himself and sustain an application to claim maintenance from his wife. This would be an anathema to the spirit of Section 24 of the Act”, the judge added.

The couple had gotten married in 2017, and following irreconcilable differences, the wife had returned to her parental home. The man had filed for divorce. The wife in turn filed a petition seeking restitution of conjugal rights; she sought Rs. 25,000 per month as maintenance and Rs. 1 lakh as litigation expenses. The man then filed an application seeking Rs. 2 lakhs in maintenance per month and Rs. 30,000 as litigation expenses. The wife claimed that the husband was working as an executive with a monthly salary of Rs. 50,000–60,000 and had properties rented out, which got him Rs. 75,000 per month.

This seems to be a clear act of male ego and retaliation. It appears that the husband, being a man, is unable to accept that his wife, a woman, has “left him”. The fact that she is financially independent and was courageous enough to walk out of their marriage might have infuriated him. He might have assumed that the wife would come rushing back to him when he served a divorce notice. However, when that didn’t happen and the wife claimed maintenance and litigation expenses, he might have perceived it as an assault on his male ego. And hence, he, despite being able-bodied, seemed to have decided to get back at his wife by seeking a higher maintenance from her.

The Karnataka HC’s verdict on this issue is definitely appreciable because this will be a lesson to all the men who think they can misuse the laws to their advantage. As the court pointed out, just because a man loses his job doesn’t mean he can’t earn money.

Unfortunately, women are still fighting for equal opportunities in the workforce and equal pay. Getting a job can be challenging for women due to the fact that many quit their jobs after marriage, take maternity leaves, and are now expecting menstrual leaves.

Women who become mothers struggle with work-life balance. Divorced women are more prone to experiencing workplace harassment. Also, leading a peaceful life in a society that still hasn’t normalised divorce is very stressful. Society has different parameters for divorced men and women. While divorced women are seen as dishonourable and characterless, divorced men immediately become eligible grooms again.

So, life becomes nerve-racking for women after divorce, both professionally and personally, while it’s not really a big deal for men. In cases where children are involved, it takes infinite strength for women to rebuild themselves, care for the children, and handle the social stigma. Moreover, men need to develop the ability to take “no” for an answer and move on with life. Perceiving it as a strike on their male ego and playing revenge is irrational as modern women are not ready to submit to patriarchy. It is highly commendable that the Karnataka High Court has rendered this judgment, which promises a bright future.

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