Delhi High Court Recognizes Maintenance Arrears as Recoverable Debt

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Published on: 26 August 2023 at 19:00 IST

The Delhi High Court, presided over by Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Neena Bansal Krishna, has highlighted that the arrears of maintenance owed by a husband can be considered as a debt once a definite amount becomes payable to the dependents.

The Court held that this debt-like obligation, once crystallized through a court order or decree, can be recovered through a civil suit.

While acknowledging that maintenance itself does not stem from a contractual commitment, the Court stressed that once determined and concretized by a legal order, it attains the character of a “debt,” which warrants recourse through a civil suit.

The Court underscored that a settled legal principle upholds the maintainability of a civil suit for recovering maintenance arrears once they acquire the status of a “debt” following a final order issued under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

During the proceedings, counsel Ankur Mahindra represented the appellant, while counsel Kamal Kumar represented the respondent.

The appeal was brought forth by a minor son challenging a Family Court’s decision that dismissed his mother’s suit seeking the recovery of maintenance arrears amounting to Rs. 2,78,800 from the father.

The crux of the case centered around the Family Court’s finding that a civil suit for the recovery of arrears of maintenance, granted pursuant to a Maintenance Order by a Metropolitan Magistrate, is not maintainable, as the only available remedy is seeking execution of the order.

Analyzing the intent behind Section 125 of the CrPC, the Court recognized the financial vulnerability of women and dependent children, underscoring the significance of financial sustenance.

The Court expressed that legal battles for maintenance, especially for those already in destitute circumstances, can exacerbate their difficulties, making the fight for maintenance feel futile.

The statute’s primary objective is to prevent destitution and vagrancy, which can often drive individuals to commit offenses.

In its decision, the Court drew on the case of S. Vanathan Muthuraja vs. Ramalingam alias Krishnamurthy Gurukkal & Ors., where the Rule of Construction was invoked to emphasize the presumption of the existence of rights and remedies in a democratic, rule-of-law governed society.

The Court observed that Section 125 of the CrPC does not impose a bar on the jurisdiction of Civil Courts and is primarily aimed at averting vagrancy.

It asserted that the status of a “debt” emerges only when a definite sum becomes legally due and payable through a judgment or decree, thereby validating the pursuit of recovery through a civil suit.

In light of these deliberations, the impugned judgment was set aside, and the appellant was awarded Rs. 2,05,000 as maintenance arrears.

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