Equity in Matrimonial Cases: Calcutta High Court Calls for Fairness in Litigation Costs Allocation

The Calcutta High Court recently ruled in Partha Sakha Maity vs Bijali Maity that if a wife is forced to leave her matrimonial home, she shouldn’t bear the litigation costs of a suit filed against her by her husband. Justice Biswaroop Chowdhury emphasized granting litigation costs to the wife from the outset of such cases, acknowledging the mental toll of disputes leading to her departure.

Here’s what happened:

1. When a wife leaves her marital home, she may rely on her parents or employment for support, but should not be burdened with litigation costs until maintenance issues are resolved.
2. The court ruled it unjust for a wife to cover litigation costs in suits filed by her husband, considering her lack of joint income benefits while living separately.
3. A wife should bear litigation costs only if her income vastly exceeds nominal expenses or if provided a lawyer by legal services.
4. The Court emphasized protecting women’s dignity by avoiding unnecessary financial strain.
5. The ruling followed a husband’s challenge against a lower court’s decision to pay ₹3,000 monthly in litigation costs to his estranged wife.
6. The High Court noted the time-consuming process of considering income and assets for maintenance assessment, recognizing the financial burden on the wife in engaging legal representation.
7. The court reasoned that awarding costs should not be delayed until maintenance is determined to avoid further strain.
8. A wife’s right to claim litigation costs from the outset when responding to a matrimonial suit by her husband was stressed.
9. Costs should be awarded on the first day of application, not deferred pending consideration of objections and assets.
10. However, if the wife’s income is significant or exceptional circumstances arise, costs may be adjusted.
11. The High Court clarified that while standard to grant costs to a respondent wife, the same principles may not apply if she initiates the suit.
12. The High Court upheld litigation cost orders but clarified they shouldn’t offset maintenance.

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About the Author: Payal Singh