Right to Maintenance After Break-Up of Bigamous Marriage

The recent judgement of the Bombay High Court awarding maintenance to petitioner, Suman, is of great importance.

Suman had married Nivrutti Satav in 1981. Suman alleged that Nivrutti ill-treated her, married another woman the next year, and ultimately threw her out of the house in 1991.

A Magistrate’s court denied her application for maintenance because she could not prove her marriage to Nivrutti. She then went to the High Court.

Pronouncing the verdict, Justice Abhay Oka awarded a maintenance of Rs 500 per month, with arrears since 1991, to petitioner Suman.

The Court held that For the purpose of granting maintenance to a neglected wife under section 125 of criminal procedure code (CrPC), no strict proof of marriage is required.

In Suman’s case the local Sarpanch and Police Patil testified that Nivrutti and Suman had been living together as husband and wife for seven to eight years.

This verdict by Justice Oka might bolster the case of the Maharashtra government, which has proposed to make an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code to extend the right to maintenance to women who could not prove the legality of their marriage.

This amendment was proposed in October last year. The State Government has said that

‘the definition of the word ‘wife’ under Section 125 needs to be changed to include a woman who was living with a man like his wife for a reasonably long period.’

The amendment proposed by the Maharashtra Government is the same as what has been proposed by the Justice Mallimath committee formed by the Central Government.

In July, this year, the Maharashtra government sent a formal proposal to the Centre

 to amend a section of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and expand the definition of the word ‘wife’ to include a woman living with a man like his wife for a‘reasonably long’ period.

However, the Maharashtra state government has not specified the exact duration of a ‘reasonably long’ period. The interpretation of this has been left up to the courts.

Some legal experts have opposed this proposal.

They say that the proposed amendment may legalise or justify bigamy which is against the law as per the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.This amendment, if passed, would legalise a live-in relationship, and would entitle the woman in such a relationship to be entitled to alimony in the event of the relationship breaking down.

Activists like Flavia Agnes cite examples where the rights of women to maintenance have been upheld despite the concerned marriage being bigamous. Their contention is that this is a common ploy used by men- who try to avoid paying maintenance to women with whom they have cohabited for a prolonged period of time on the grounds of bigamy.

If this proposal is accepted, it would give relief to women who have been tricked into bigamous marriages and then denied maintenance after the break-up of the marriage.

My own view is that if this proposal is limited to procuring maintenance for a woman who has been left destitute after the break-up of a marriage, even a bigamous one, it should be welcomed.

What do you think?

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28 thoughts on “Right to Maintenance After Break-Up of Bigamous Marriage”

  1. There should be some way where the registration of marriages in villages and small towns be made obligatory. This will give the women some hope for maintenance in cases like these.

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  2. You know, what is interesting here, is that the earlier court had granted a maintenance of Rs 200 for the child, since "paternity was not denied", and the earlier court that threw out Suman's case enhanced the daughters amount to 400. Does admitting paternity also not admit the existence of a unique other half in the girls parentage ? Was the earlier court suddenly blind to that ? Or does the Cr P C. need to increase the font size, of the word "wife" ? I think , this step which the Maharashtra govt is contemplating (and should complete fast) , is a welcome step. Particularly for an entire generation of children who are children of abandoned mothers, and have to make their way in the world with a great deal of difficulty, since they are denied everything from their fathers side. Rural situations always have an element of land-owning, and for these children, being able to be a claiamnt on that would be very useful, given that their mothers single handedly slogged to bring them up when young. Still, the ability of the lower court to recongnise a child but refuse the existence of a mother/wife simply amazes me. Justice Oka needs to be appluded.

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  3. Ugich Konitari– As I understand it, maintenance for children has to be given- irrespective of the status of the marriage of their parents.I understand that this amendment is being proposed by the Maharashtra government, in order to enable women like Suman to get maintenance, even if there is doubt about the legality of their marriage.

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  4. This is a very tricky one and can cut both ways, making bigamy, even polygamy, somewhat legal. In the process of giving redress to the second or nth "wife" living with a man for a "reasonable period of time", what happens to the monetary and other rights of the legally wedded first wife?In the case of Suman, she was the first wife. So, the only way her right could be denied was by using the trick that her husband did.When a woman enters into a relationship with a married man, she knows that she is not entitled to any rights available to a wife. That must act as a deterrent for many women and that is the way it should be. I think any woman other than the wife should not get any compensation, unless the man has hidden the fact of his previous marriage from her. Even so, the rights of the woman who happens to be the wife should in no way be adversely impacted.

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  5. Vinodji– Yes, there is a strong possibility that this amendment, if passed, will be misused, with a 'second wife' falsely claiming that she did not know of the husband's first marriage.And I agree that if there is no possibility of a woman getting maintenance after the break-up of a bigamous relationship, that will act as a deterrent.I think the success (or failure)of this amendment being used to secure justice for all parties concerned will depend to a great degree on the court, and how the concerned judge uses his discretion in assessing the situation.

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  6. I feel that any woman who marries a married man..should have no rights..otherwise we are encouraging bigamy becuas eit will be another uphillmtask t determine whether she married knowingly or was duped.It is the responsibility of a person to veriify everything before marrying and since we are going forward in our efforts to demand equality everywhere, we will have to think whether its logical to blame men for everything.Practically if we see its always a women cheating another woman for her selfish interests.Even if a woman is duped in marrying, she can go the the court for duping, but not for any maintenance right..it may be disastrous for rural people, but we cqnt have two sets of rules for rural and urban or rich and poor or illiterate and educated.. registration of marriage i not compulsory, so everybody must get it,

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  7. LVS– Very true- mindset matters more. But not many will agree.Today, it's all about freedom.People ask, what is wrong with bigamy? If the concerned parties are not bothered, why should anyone else care? Why should the 'husband' feel guilty?(BTW- This is not my opinion- I have heard people say this.)

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  8. Antarman– Yes it is true that by giving 'second wives' rights, we may be encouraging bigamy. And it is difficult to determine whether she was aware of a previous marriage or not.But if we see the situation in the villages or slums areas, we find that it is very easy for a woman to be tricked into a bigamous marriage. It's a complex situation- as I said in an earlier comment- I think much will depend on how the concerned judge uses his discretionary powers- if the amendment does go through.

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  9. Isn't the village Sarpanch's word enough to certify that Suman was married to Nivrutti? Like the Sarpanch certifies the 'caste certificate', every marriage which has not been registered, can now be certified and further marriages can compulsorily be registered. This will definitely help the legal wife to have the maintenance, if the marriage breaks up.Second marriage should not be encouraged in any way, Manju. If children are involved, they should get their right for proper education with their 'father's money'. This might prevent the men from having illegitimate children.

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  10. Even though this is tricky, I still think that any child brought into this world by two consenting adults should be looked after. So the question of legality of marriage aside, the child is a responsibility for sure.

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  11. Sandhya– From the news reports, it appears that in this case, the Sarpanch could only testify that Suman and Nivrutti had been living together as husband and wife- not that they were married according to the require Hindu rites.Yes, I do agree that bigamy should not be encouraged. It is sad, though, that it is usually the woman, whether first wife or 'second', who suffers.:(Solilo– There have been rulings that, according to the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act. even children from a void wedlock are entitled to maintenance.

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  12. Panchayats order 'hukka pani band' in cases of same 'gotra' marriages and inter caste marriages.Couples are killed and forced to commit suicide if it is an inter religious marriage but in cases like these the panchayats are quiet, what an irony!

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  13. Prerna– Yes, it is an irony. And if the Sarpanch and Police Patil could testify that Suman and Nivrutti were living together as husband and wife, I wonder they could not arrest him on the charge of bigamy!

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  14. i think the hindu marriage act is more in favor of the man – but special marriage act makes it difficult for the man to get away in things that is being discussed above.yes i agree it should be registered first.

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  15. This is so tricky. While in a lot of ways, such a ruling will be helpful for women who have been wronged, there is always a possibility of misuse. As for bigamy, I think, there needs to be a deterrent for it. Ensuring that all marriages are registered itself will go a long way, I guess..

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  16. Sunder– This does seem ike a miscarriage of justice.Anrosh– Yes, the Special Marriage Act seems to be better. In fact, I think that if all marriages were conducted under that Act, there would be no ambiguity about the legality of the marriage.And the couple could perform whichever rituals they liked afterwards, without arguments about which rituals constitute a legal marriage.Smitha– Yes, it is a tricky problem.Ensuring registration for all marriages wil certainly be helpful in discouraging bigamy- of course only with respect to couples of those religions where bigamy is illegal, of course.

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  17. I have not come across a lot of marriages from all levels of the society.. but I feel a woman has the grace and power to protect her rights wrt marriage and she should use that..I know my experience with different kinds of people is very less.. but I have developed this thought with whatever experience I have collected in life uptill now..With every weakness the Almighty gifts some other strength.. which one has to identify and use 🙂

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  18. I came across this page today only,and seeing all of y’all’s comments could not control my urge to comment as well.
    lets say a woman “second woman” gets into a relation with a man not knowing that he already has a living spouse (now i’ am not debating on the evidentiary value of such a relationship in the eyes of law) . and lets accept bigamy to be a moral and legal reality.
    can we just denigrate the status of the 2nd lady to that of a concubine? isn’t she a woman in her own rights and shouldn’t she have the right to be treated with respect and be able to carry herself with utmost dignity?
    and why should the price of a man’s immortality be paid by women and the man is left free to exploit both the women.

    Thoughts expressed here are my own and can be termed silly.Please don’t get offended.

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    1. Welcome to this blog, Vimi!

      As I mentioned in this post, my personal view is that a woman should be able to obtain maintenance in case of break-up of a bigamous marriage if she is otherwise unable to support herself.

      Yes, I do get your point that a woman who has been in a relationship with a man, not knowing that he is already married [thus rendering her marriage to him bigamous] would be penalised for no fault of hers. And my sympathies are with the woman in such a relationship.

      Yes, the second wife is certainly entitled to respect and dignity. I would think, though, that this would be more of a social, rather than legal issue.

      This is a tricky issue, as some commenters here have said, and I think a lot would depend on the discretion of the judge concerned.

      Thanks for commenting !

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