Supreme Court
Supreme Court

Married woman has right to live at in-laws’ home even if estranged, says SC

The SC ruled that the right to residence to a married woman, guaranteed under the domestic violence law, will apply in civil cases as well.

In a significant verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday held that under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, a woman has a right to live at her husband’s family’s home, even if she is estranged from them. The SC ruled that the relief given by a criminal court, granting right to residence to a married woman, which is guaranteed under the domestic violence law, can be considered even when a civil case has been filed against her, which seeks her eviction from the matrimonial home.

The Supreme Court was hearing a case filed by a Delhi resident seeking an appeal of a High Court judgment which ruled that his daughter-in-law had a right to live at her in-laws’ home even if the married couple was in the middle of divorce proceedings.

The apex court said that the progress of any society depends on its ability to protect and promote the rights of its women. "Guaranteeing equal rights and privileges to women by the Constitution had marked the step towards the transformation of the status of the women in this country, it said.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah also termed set aside an earlier judgment's interpretation of the definition of ‘shared household’ under the Act, and said that the definition was quite exhaustive and intended to provide the residence to the victim women under the law.

The definition of shared household given in Section 2(s) cannot be read to mean that shared household can only be that household which is the household of the joint family to which husband is a member or in which husband of the aggrieved person has a share, the bench said in its 151-page judgement. It said shared household meant the place where the woman lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the husband and it includes the house owned or tenanted.

The top court, however, said, the interim order protecting the right to residence of a woman under the law will not come in the way of filing of civil cases related to the property.

“The pendency of proceedings under (Domestic Violence) Act, or any order interim or final passed under the D.V. Act under Section 19 regarding right of residence is not an embargo for initiating or continuing any civil proceedings, which relate to the subject matter of order interim or final passed in proceedings under the DV Act,” it said.

The judgment or order of the criminal court granting an interim or final relief under Section 19 of DV Act are relevant within the meaning of Section 43 of the Evidence Act and can be referred to and looked into by the civil court, it held.

A civil court is to determine issues in proceedings on the basis of evidence which has been led by the parties before it, the judgement said.

Referring to facts of the case, the court said the lawsuit filed in a civil court for eviction of woman was fully maintainable and issues raised by her father-in-law, who claims to own the house, as well as by the woman claiming a right to residence were to be addressed and decided on the basis of evidence.

The top court's verdict came on an appeal of 76-year-old Delhi resident Satish Chander Ahuja against a Delhi High Court's judgement. The Delhi High Court had set aside an order of a trial court passed in 2019 asking the daughter-in-law of Ahuja to vacate his premises. The High Court had also passed several directions and asked the civil court to decide the lawsuit afresh.

Ahuja had said that the property belonged to him and neither his son nor his daughter-in-law have any ownership rights over it and it led to passing of an order asking the woman to vacate the premises. The husband had filed a separate case for decree of divorce against his wife and the woman had filed a criminal complaint under the domestic violence law against husband, Ahuja and the mother-in-law. 

A criminal court had passed an interim order under the Domestic Violence Act that she be not dispossessed until further orders. However, the father-in-law then filed a civil suit and got a decree of eviction. The top court concurred with the high court's finding which had said that in all the cases, the husband of the woman needed to be made parties by the trial court by invoking its suo motu powers under the Civil Procedure Code.

The Trial Court will then consider whether the appellant had made any unambiguous admission about the respondent's ownership rights in respect of the suit premises; if she has and her only defence to being dispossessed there from is her right of residence under the DV Act, then the Trial Court shall, before passing a decree of possession on the wife premise of ownership rights, ensure that in view of the subsisting rights of the appellant under the DV Act, she is provided with an alternate accommodation as per Section 19(1)(f) of the DV Act, which will continue to be provided to her till the subsistence of her matrimonial relationship, the high court had held.

With PTI inputs

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