Women who have been thrown out of their in-laws’ house due to a domestic dispute can now claim the right of residence in the “shared household” even if the house is owned by the in-laws.
In a judgment that would bring relief to many victims of domestic violence, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that “shared household”, under the protection of women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, can also be a house owned by the joint family or any relative of the husband, provided that the woman has lived in that house after her marriage as a long-term resident “in a domestic relationship”.
“In the event, the shared household belongs to any relative of the husband with whom in a domestic relationship the woman has lived, the conditions mentioned in Section 2(s) are satisfied and the said house will become a shared household,” held the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah.
This judgment would come as a massive relief to women who have been thrown out of the matrimonial home and denied relief on grounds that the house is the sole property of their father-in-law or mother-in-law.
The bench, in its 150-page verdict, observed that “domestic violence in this country is rampant and several women encounter violence in some form or the other almost every day, however, it is the least reported form of cruel behaviour.”
The bench also observed that the Domestic Violence Act 2005 was a “step to secure social justice by legislation”
The Act 2005 was enacted to give a higher right in favour of the woman. The Act 2005 has been enacted to provide for more effective protection of the rights of the woman who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family. The Act has to be interpreted in a manner to effectuate the very purpose and object of the Act,” said the court.
The judgment over-ruled a 2007 judgment in Tarun Batra case of a two-judge bench of the apex court, which had held that “shared household” is limited to a house that is owned or rented by her husband, or by the joint family of which the husband is a member.
Conditions on woman’s right of residence
The bench has clarified that whether or not the residence is in fact a “shared residence” would be determined by the family court where the domestic violence case is being heard.
The court additionally said that “the right to residence under Section 19 is not an indefeasible right of residence in the shared household especially when the daughter-in-law is pitted against aged father-in-law and mother-in-law.”
“The senior citizens in the evening of their life are also entitled to live peacefully not haunted by marital discord between their son and daughter-in-law. While granting relief both in the application under Section 12 of Act, 2005 or in any civil proceedings, the court has to balance the rights of both the parties” the court has added.
Relief for the daughter-in-law would also depend on whether the allegation of domestic violence can be proved in the trial.
“It is to be observed that in a case any relief available under Sections 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 is sought by the aggrieved person in any legal proceedings before a civil court, family court or a criminal court including the residence order, the aggrieved person has to satisfy by leading evidence that domestic violence has taken place and only on the basis of the evidence led on being satisfied that the domestic violence has taken place, the relief available under Section 19 can be granted…” the court said.
Case which led to the judgment
The observations have been passed in a case involving a domestic dispute where a couple married in 1995 and started living in the house owned by the father-in-law. In 2004, a separate kitchen was created on the first floor of the house where the husband and wife lived, while the in-laws lived on the ground floor. In 2014, the husband started living in the guest room on the ground floor, while the wife and children lived on the first floor.
The husband had initiated divorce proceedings in 2014, while the father-in-law filed a plea of injunction, to bar the woman from living in his house.
The trial court had passed an order in favour of the in-laws, which was overturned by the Delhi High court, which held that the woman did have the legal right to claim the right of residence.
The father-in-law then moved the apex court to decide on the legal issues of whether the daughter-in-law could seek rights of residence in his house.
The Apex court has now held that the trial court decision was incorrect, and has directed the trial court to re-adjudicate the matter.
“The claim of the defendant that suit property is shared household and she has right to reside in the house ought to have been considered by the Trial Court and non-consideration of the claim/defense is nothing but defeating the right, which is protected by Act, 2005” the SC has said.
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