Question: I want to know how is the alimony or maintenance calculated after a decree of divorce is passed by the court? I am worried about the quantum of the alimony that may be awarded to my wife who has applied for divorce. I have to support my old parents and have many deductions from my salary and if an exceptionally high amount of alimony or maintenance is ordered, it may become difficult for me to survive.
Answer: Alimony or maintenance is given to a spouse after divorce in the form of a financial support. Though, under law, it can be awarded to either spouse, generally it is required to be provided by the husband to his wife. Alimony or maintenance is generally awarded if a spouse does not have sufficient means to take care of the reasonable needs of life.
For persons who are governed by the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, permanent alimony or maintenance is awarded by the court under Section 25 of the said Act. This section is generally resorted to at the time of passing of the decree of divorce. However, this section empowers the court to award alimony even at any time subsequent to the divorce on an application being made for that purpose. Moreover, alimony can be provided to wife or even to the husband for her or his maintenance or support.
Alimony can be provided as a lump-sum amount (i.e., one-time payment), or as a monthly or periodical payment. Secondly, if it is provided on monthly or periodical basis, then it can be ordered to be paid during the full life of the spouse or for a period less than that.
There is no fixed arithmetic formula that is used for calculating the alimony. It depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. However, there are certain factors that are taken into consideration for computing the amount of alimony, and some of these factors taken into consideration by the court are mentioned below (here, for the sake of simplicity, it is being presumed that the husband is being directed to pay alimony to the wife):
- Husband’s own income and other property, if any.
- Income and other property of the wife herself.
- Conduct of the parties.
- Other circumstances of the case, which may seem to the court to be just.
- Usually, all mandatory deductions (such as Income Tax, load repayments, etc.) from the income / salary of the husband would be considered to arrive at his net income / salary.
- Other genuine liabilities of the husband, such as wholly dependent old parents, may be duly considered by the court.
- If wife is employed / working and has her own independent sources of income, the same may also be taken into account.
- The life style of parties, their social status may be taken into account.
- The status and the mode of life which the wife was used to when she lived with her husband, is also taken into account.
- Expenses to be incurred on the education and upbringing of the children is also considered.
- Age and health of the parties.
- The period for which they have been married.
Therefore, based on a variety of factors, which depend upon the specific facts and circumstances of each case (i.e., there is no hard and fast formula), the amount to be provided as alimony or maintenance is decided by the court.
For example, in a recent case, U. Sree v. U. Srinivas, (2013) 2 SCC 114, the Supreme Court held that:
“… while granting permanent alimony, no arithmetic formula can be adopted as there cannot be mathematical exactitude. It shall depend upon the status of the parties, their respective social needs, the financial capacity of the husband and other obligations. … the court is required to take note of the fact that the amount of maintenance fixed for the wife should be such as she can live in reasonable comfort considering her status and the mode of life she was used to when she lived with her husband. At the same time, the amount so fixed cannot be excessive or affect the living condition of the other party. … it is the duty of the Court to see that the wife lives with dignity and comfort and not in penury. The living need not be luxurious but simultaneously she should not be left to live in discomfort. The Court has to act with pragmatic sensibility to such an issue so that the wife does not meet any kind of man-made misfortune.”
In the above case, keeping in view of good financial condition of the husband, the Supreme Court fixed the permanent alimony at ₹ 50 lakh.
It is usually experienced that the maintenance is generally fixed at 1/4 to 1/3 of the income of the husband, though this is not a hard and fast formula and the amount may be higher or lower than this in certain cases.
It is also noteworthy that an order for award of alimony or maintenance made earlier, can subsequently be varied, modified or cancelled if the court is satisfied that there is a change in the circumstances of either party. In particular, if the court is satisfied that:
- the party in whose favour such an order has been made has remarried, or,
- if such party is the wife, that she has not remained chaste, or,
- if such party is the husband, that he has had sexual intercourse with any woman outside wedlock,
the court may vary, modify or rescind any such order in such manner as the court may deem just.