On Monday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed all family courts in the state to insist on affidavit of assets, income & expenditure in all matrimonial cases, to avoid unnecessary burden on wives seeking maintenance.
"The best practices should always be followed particularly if the same are for furtherance of efficient and effective justice dispensation. Furnishing of such [income] affidavits would check the practice of playing "hide and seek" game in such cases where an attempt is made by a party to conceal the income and not come out with resources forcing the other party to make tiring efforts to collect information which would otherwise be readily available with such party," Justice Gurvinder Singh Gill held.
The direction came after Justice Gill observed that helpless wives, being bereft of requisite information required for assessing maintenance, were left collecting documents & evidence on spouse's financial status.
"Invariably, there is colossal delay in disposal of cases pertaining to maintenance… In a large number of cases, it is noticed that the delay occurs as the hapless wife is left fending for herself, collecting documents & evidence as regards the financial status of her husband so as to seek appropriate maintenance," Justice Gill remarked.
The judgment clearly states that the direction for filing of income affidavit may be issued even in pending cases, if parties are not forthcoming about the information. However, the direction will not apply to parties that belong to the lowest strata of society and are absolutely not likely to be possessed of the sources detailed in the format.
"in exceptional cases, the Court may also dispense with the aforesaid requirement of furnishing affidavits especially in cases where the parties belong to the lowest strata of society and are absolutely not likely to be possessed of the sources detailed in the format or where the Court is of the opinion that directing the party to furnish such affidavit would cause unnecessary inconvenience to the party and is not likely to render any fruitful purpose," Justice Gill directed.
However, to thwart misuse of such relaxation, the high court made it clear that any deliberate attempt to conceal vital information or to mislead the court wouldn't only invite penal action, but would also leave it open to the court to draw an "adverse inference" against the responsible party.
Notably, the Delhi High Court is already in the practice of seeking income affidavits in matrimonial cases and the directions in respect of filing of such affidavits were initially issued in Kusum Sharma v. Narinder Kumar Sharma, 2011(30) RCR(Civil). However, these directions have been modified from time to time, pursuant to responses and suggestions received from various quarters including the trial Courts, and the latest directions were issued on December 6, 2017 in case titled Kusum Sharma v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma, 2018(246) DLT 1.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the courts will generally follow these directions however; they would be at liberty to modify the format and the directions as may be deemed necessary in the facts and circumstances of the case.
Apart from the above mentioned guidelines, the high court further held that the family courts would be competent to issue any direction at any stage of the proceedings to any of the parties to elicit such information as may be required to reach at a just decision in the matter pertaining to award of maintenance. Further, if it were to be found that requisite information as regards resources of any of the parties was not forthcoming, the Courts could even consider appointment of a local commissioner for visiting the place of residence or business of a party to assess the standard of living & social status.
These guidelines will be followed in all matrimonial cases including cases under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Section 125 Cr.P.C, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, Special Marriage Act, 1954, Indian Divorce Act, 1869, Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 and Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956.
Case Title: Jaspreet Singh v. Gurleen Kaur
Case No.: CRM-M 36522/2019 (O&M)
Quorum: Justice Gurvinder Singh Gill
Appearance: Advocate Naveen Bawa (for Petitioner); Advocate Jaideep Verma (for Respondent)
Click Here To Download Judgment