A husband has moral and legal duty to provide a decent maintenance amount to his estranged wife in consonance with her living standards irrespective of his income, a Delhi court has said.

“A married man is under a legal and moral obligation to maintain his estranged wife whether he possesses any property or not or whether or not he has any income. The obligation to maintain her is personal in character and arises from the very existence of the relationship between the parties,” Additional Sessions Judge Nivedita Anil Sharma said.

The court passed the order while declining the plea of a husband, Shalabh Srivastava, seeking alteration in the interim-maintenance amount fixed by a lower court on the ground that his income had substantially went down after he joined a new job.

It declined the husband’s plea saying that he had an earning potential of Rs 35,500 per month and if he has preferred to minimise his income and work at a lesser salary, then he cannot be allowed to take advantage of his own conduct.

“The fact of taking up a job at a lesser salary clearly indicates that the revisionist (husband) is deliberately making a conscious effort to reduce and minimise his income. It is also not believable that any man would work at a lesser income than what he is getting already.”

“The averments of the appellant clearly show that a deliberate attempt has been made by him to lessen his income and he cannot be permitted to take advantage of this fact,” the court observed.

The court rejected the contention of husband that the earning potential of his estranged wife was far more than the amount she was getting as maintenance.

“There is nothing brought on the record prima facie by the husband to show that the earning potential of the respondent (wife) is more than Rs. 7,000 as observed by the trial court,” the court said.

It also turned down the plea that the wife was living separately due to her own conduct, saying that the fact was immaterial for the purpose of award of interim-maintenance.

“The dispute regarding conduct of the parties are immaterial... only the earnings, properties, assets as well as the earning potential of both the sides is to be taken into consideration,” it said.

Mr. Shalabh had appealed against the order of a trial court fixing Rs. 7,000 per month as the maintenance for his estranged wife Ritu.

While awarding the maintenance, the trial court had concluded that Mr. Shalabh’s income was around Rs. 35,500.

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