In a significant observation, Madras High Court held that a wife would be entitled to an equal share in the properties as she has also contributed indirectly to the acquisition of assets by performing the household chores.
“The contribution which wives make towards acquisition of the family assets by performing their domestic chores, thereby releasing their husbands for gainful employment, would be a factor which, this Court would specifically take into account while deciding the right in the properties either the title stand in the name of the husband or wife and certainly, the spouse who looks after the home and cares for family for decades, entitled to a share in the property,” the bench said.
Justice Krishnan Ramasamy stated that there exists no specific legislation which recognise the wife’s contributions but a Court could recognise such contributions.
Justice Ramasamy said, “No law prevents the Judges from recognizing the contributions made by a wife facilitating her husband to purchase the property. In my view, if the acquisition of assets is made by joint contribution (directly or indirectly) of both the spouses for the welfare of the family, certainly, both are entitled to equal share.”
The bench was hearing a plea related to the dispute between a couple who got married in 1965. Kannaian Naidu, the husband filed an injunction suit against his wife in 2002 contending that she is trying to usurp the properties that were purchased by his money while he was working abroad. He also added that his wife took the assistance of another man to alienate the properties and led a wayward life.
Contrary to that, the wife claimed that she is equally entitled to the property share as she had looked after the family and gave up her career to support her husband. She added that she had sold her ancestral property to support her husband in the foreign trip. She also claimed that she earned some money through tailoring and tuitions which she had used to acquire some of the suit properties.
The husband’s lawsuit was initially granted by the trial court, but the first appellate court overturned some aspects of the decision. Following Kannan Naidu’s passing, his children, who are his legal heirs, lodged a second appeal with the High Court. Additionally, the wife submitted a cross objection to the High Court, challenging specific aspects of the appellate court’s ruling.
The High Court agreed to the wife’s submission that she had contributed to the family by taking care of the family. The Court held that though she didn’t make any financial contributions, she had played a vital role in managing the household chores by looking after the children, cooking, cleaning and managing day-to-day affairs of the family without giving any inconvenience to the plaintiff abroad and moreover, she sacrificed her dreams and spent her entire life towards the family and children.
The bench added, “In generality of marriages, the wife bears and rears children and minds the home. She thereby frees her husband for his economic activities. Since it is her performance of her function which enables the husband to perform his, she is in justice, entitled to share in its fruits.”
The High Court bench stated that a homemaker wife perform multitasks and creates a comfortable environment for the family. The Court added that a homemaker married woman performed her job 24 hours a day which cannot be equated with the husband’s 8 hours of earning job.
“For taking care of the children and family, it is nothing like 8 hours job, what the husband was doing abroad but it is 24 hours job. The 1st defendant, being a wife, had physically contributed to the family for 24 hours. However, the husband, out of his 8 hours job at abroad, had financially contributed to the family and sent the money out of his savings, from which they had purchased the property. The said savings were done because of the 24 hours efforts put by the 1st defendant/wife for the family, whereby she had made her husband to save money without contributing much towards the house maid etc., and for payment of money towards other jobs,” the bench said.
The bench stated that when the wife gives up her career to devote herself to taking care of the family, she should not left with anything.
“If, on marriage, she gives up her paid work in order to devote herself to caring for her husband and children, it is an unwarrantable hardship when in consequence she finds herself in the end with nothing she can call her own,” the bench said.
“When the husband and wife are treated as two wheels of a family cart, then the contribution made either by the husband by earning or the wife by serving and looking after the family and children, would be for the welfare of the family and both are entitled equally to whatever they earned by their joint effort. The proper presumption is that the beneficial interest belongs to them jointly. The property may be purchased either in the name of husband or wife alone, but nevertheless, it is purchased with the monies saved by their joint efforts,” the judgment reads.
Based on the court’s findings, it was determined that the wife had indirectly contributed to the acquisition of the properties. The court recognized that despite not making direct financial contributions, the wife’s efforts in managing the household, taking care of the family, and creating a comfortable environment for the husband during his time abroad had allowed him to pursue gainful employment and save money for the family’s future, including the purchase of assets. Consequently, the court concluded that the wife was entitled to a share in the properties.
In this particular case, the properties were registered in the wife’s name, and the husband claimed ownership based on his assertion that he had provided the funds for their purchase. He argued that due to his absence abroad, the properties were bought in his wife’s name on his behalf. The lower courts accepted the husband’s claim, recognizing him as the rightful owner of the properties. However, the High Court reversed this decision by stating that both the husband and wife held equal entitlement to the properties.
The bench observed, “Though the properties purchased in the name of the 1st defendant, she alone cannot claim exclusive right over the properties merely because the title deed is in her name since the documentary evidence would establish that the 1st defendant/wife purchased the properties out of the direct financial contribution of the plaintiff also. Likewise, the plaintiff also cannot claim absolute right merely on the basis that he had sent the money to purchase the properties and the 1st defendant is only holding then property in trust as ostensible title over the properties in fiduciary capacity…this Court arrives at the conclusion that since Item Nos.1 and 2 have been purchased from and out joint contribution of spouses, viz., the plaintiff by earning and the 1st defendant indirectly by way of her invaluable services as home maker, whereby reducing the expenses of her husband which lead her husband to save more and this way the wife had contributed indirectly to purchase the property item Nos.1 and 2, which aspect cannot be ignored as the same could be decided based.”
While holding that the wife is entitled to half property share, the bench went on to add, “A wife, being a home maker performs multi tasks, viz., as a Manager with managerial skills-planning, organizing, budgeting, running errands, etc.; as a Chef with cullinary skills-preparing food items, designing menus and managing kitchen inventory; as a Home Doctor with health care skills-taking precautions and giving home made medicines to the members of the family; as a Home Economist with financial skills- planning home budget, spending and saving, etc. Therefore, by performing these skills, a wife, makes the home as a comfortable environment and her contribution towards the family, and certainly it is not a valueless job, but it is a job doing for 24 hours without holidays, which cannot be less equated with that of the job of an earning husband who works only for 8 hours.“