Even the brother-in-law has a liability to pay maintenance to a victim under the Domestic Violence Act if they had lived together under the same roof in a shared household as part of a joint family at any point of time, the Supreme Court has held.
A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta interpreted the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 to confirm an order of a Panipat Sessions Judge that Ajay Kumar should pay maintenance to the widow and minor child of his dead brother. Both brothers lived in the ancestral family home on different floors with their respective families and together ran a shop. After the brother’s death, the widow was not permitted to live in the same house.
In July 2015, the sessions court ordered him to pay ₹4,000 as monthly maintenance to his brother’s widow and ₹2,000 to the child.
Kumar unsuccessfully appealed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which upheld the trial court decision. Subsequently, he moved the apex court.
In a nine-page order, the apex court Bench interpreted what the expression ‘domestic relationship’ means under the 2005 Act.
They held that the term meant a “relationship where two persons live or have lived together at any point of time in a shared household when they are related by consanguinity, marriage or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are members living together as a joint family”.
The court further read the term “shared household” to include “such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household”.
The court found that the widow and her child were well within the meaning of the provisions and Kumar was indeed liable to pay them maintenance. The house in which the parties lived was a joint family home and the brothers had run their shop as a joint business.