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The Punjab and Haryana High Court, through its order dated 7 January directed the Family Courts across Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh to insist on an affidavit of assets, income and expenditure of the estranged husband before a wife seeks maintenance.

The bench headed by Justice Gurvinder Singh Gill issued nine commandments to be followed in all matrimonial cases, under the Hindu Marriage Act, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, Criminal Procedure Code, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, Special Marriage Act, the Indian Divorce Act, Guardian and Wards Act, and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act. The bench further added that the courts shall even appoint a local commissioner for visiting the place of residence or business of a party to assess the standard of living and social status. Further, the court granted the wife the right to approach revenue authorities for information on land held by the husband or seek information under the RTI.

Justice Gill clarified that not only a penal action will be taken against the party attempting to conceal vital information or mislead the court, but also it would be open to the court to consider drawing an “adverse inference” against such a party. The direction for filing an affidavit could be issued even in pending cases if the parties were not forthcoming about the information.

“In a large number of cases, it is noticed that the delay occurs as the hapless wife is left fending for herself, collecting documents and evidence as regards the financial status of her husband to seek appropriate maintenance,” the bench stated.

He added that approaching authorities to procure income tax returns was a “Herculean task”. Forcing a party to collect information in such manner resulted in delays against the spirit of the legislation, which provided for a 60-day timeframe for disposing of the pleas.

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