A Madras High Court judgment on alimony made women sound like sex property: Here's how

Justice S Nagamuthu ruled that a woman seeking alimony, should 'maintain discipline as she was expected to maintain during the subsistence of her marriage'.

FP Staff August 18, 2015 18:37:59 IST
A Madras High Court judgment on alimony made women sound like sex property: Here's how

You may have heard about the Madras High Court. That court had granted bail to a rape accused to that he could 'mediate' with the survivor. The same High Court has now come up with another statement that may snowball into a controversy.

Justice S Nagamuthu ruled that a woman seeking alimony, should 'maintain discipline as she was expected to maintain during the subsistence of her marriage'. In lay language, he seemed to be suggesting that post-divorce, a woman would not be entitled to maintenance from her former husband if she has sexual relations with any other man.

The court also added that if she has entered a live-in relationship with another man, the latter should be held responsible for her upkeep. The Hindu quotes from the ruling, "If she commits breach… she will suffer disqualification from claiming maintenance… If she wants to live in relationship with another man, she may be entitled for maintenance from him and not from the former husband." 

You don't expect the highest court of Tamil Nadu to frame a ruling in language that makes a woman sound like a sex object. Taken completely literally, Justice Nagamuthu's ruling suggests whoever is having sex with the woman in question should be made to pay for her.

The copy of the judgment is yet to be made available online. Based on the excerpts available from it, The Hindu has said in its headline, "Divorcees too should maintain sexual purity to claim alimony: HC". Taking cue from it, the HuffingtonPost says that "If you're a divorced woman seeking alimony from her husband, you better be ready to kiss your sex life goodbye".

A Madras High Court judgment on alimony made women sound like sex property Heres how

Representational image. Reuters.

Now, the language used by Justice Nagamuthu raises eyebrows to say the least. However, the judgment raises some contentious issues and you cannot say for sure that in order to claim alimony a woman must make sure she has no sex with anyone else. At least from the available excerpts, what it might be suggesting is that a woman who has moved on and is now in a live-in relationship with another man, should ideally not demand alimony from her ex-husband.

The country's alimony law, at its very basic, seeks to provide for divorced spouses who cannot sustain themselves financially. The court explains, "The very object of introducing Chapter IX in the Code of Criminal Procedure for maintenance of wife, children and parents is to rescue them from destitution by extending monetary assistance. Even after divorce, the law takes care that a woman does not end up in destitution and that is the reason why she is entitled for maintenance from her erstwhile husband."

It also says that in case of a working woman, if the income gap between the ex-husband and her is big, she is entitled to some alimony. But in case of re-marriage, the woman is not entitled to any alimony.  The Madras High Court judge seems to have applied the same logic to rule against women who are in live-in relationships or even in a more casual relationship with another man.

It must be pointed out in this regard, the court might not seem to be that out of step with a recent Supreme Court ruling which ought to give a partner in a live-in relationship rights similar to married couples. In April this year, while ruling in a property dispute the Supreme Court said that a woman, who had been in twenty-year live-in relationship with a man, should get the same rights as a wife would. The court said that partners in a long live-in relationship should be subjected to the same inheritance laws as a married couple. It also said that it was the 'burden' of the party questioning the rights of a live-in couple to prove to the courts that they don't deserve the same legal rights as a live-in one. 

The Madras case could be considered the flip side of that if one says does that mean if a live-in relationship is treated akin to marriage when it comes to inheritance and other legal rights, it should also be regarded on par with re-marriage when it comes to determining alimony. But that's where it starts getting murky about whether a live-in relationship is the same as any relationship and why a divorced woman should be expected to maintain the same "discipline" as she was supposed to during marriage.

However, the judgment raises some interesting questions about live in relationships and their legal status. However, the language the judge has used will distract readers from those questions since it  makes women sound like sex property.

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