This blog attempts to surface the rights of a married woman with respect to her matrimonial home.It also lists several cases where married women may find themselves aggrieved due to their matrimonial rights being violated. This blog gives an understanding of the various remedies available to women in such cases.
What is a matrimonial home?
A matrimonial home is a shared residence where both husband and married woman can reside or cohabitate. Section 2(s) of the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (hereafter referred to as the “DV Act”) defines a shared household as a “household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household”
A matrimonial home can either be set up by the husband and married woman mutually or could have already existed and been accepted by the husband and married woman as a matrimonial home upon their marriage.
A married woman has various rights which arise due to her marriage with her spouse. These rights include various rights pertaining to her matrimonial home as well. Below are a few rights that a married woman has:
- The Right to Reside: A married woman has a legal right to reside in her matrimonial home upon her marriage. She cannot be made or forced, either physically or mentally, to leave such a home unless there is a legal obligation to do so, such as the termination of a marital relationship.
- The Right to Maintenance: Every married woman has a right to seek maintenance of her lifestyle from her husband if she is unable to provide for herself. If a married woman is forced to leave her matrimonial home, she has the right to claim maintenance for a separate residence and the cost of her residence. In cases where her husband cannot provide maintenance, the married woman has a right to claim maintenance from her in-laws, as part of her rights on the matrimonial home.
- The Right to Life and Privacy: A married woman has every right to maintain her privacy and life without any interruption from her in-laws. Such interruption includes any physical or mental harassment or abuse, including any form of domestic violence.
- The Right to Property: With respect to the personal laws (if applicable), or as per any other law applicable, the married woman has a right to claim a share in the matrimonial property, which includes a right to reside in the matrimonial house irrespective of whether it is owned by her husband or by her in-laws.
- The Right to Seek Remedies: This is a constitutional as well as statutory right. Every married woman, who has been removed from her matrimonial home, has a right to seek remedies through appropriate forums, as applicable by law.
Situations under which women find themselves
- Dowry Cases: Any demand for dowry is strictly prohibited under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. As per Section 3 of the Act, any giving or taking of dowry can lead up to a minimum penalty of 5 years. If such a demand results in the death of the woman, then the offenders may also be punished under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code for the offense of dowry death. Therefore, any form of transaction that involves an element of dowry is prohibited. If a woman is removed out of her matrimonial home due to her inability to meet the dowry demand of her husband or in-laws, she has a right to seek remedies against such removal.
- Domestic Violence Cases: As per Section 3 of the DV Act, “any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it—(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and economic abuse; or (b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or (c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or (d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.”
If a woman is aggrieved in any of the above-mentioned categories, she can be regarded as a victim of domestic violence. If upon such violence, she is removed from her matrimonial home, she can claim a right to her matrimonial home and seek remedies.
- Physical and Mental Cruelty: Physical and mental cruelty isa ground for divorce. If a woman is inflicted with physical or mental cruelty by her husband or in-laws, then she can seek remedies against the same. Moreover, removal from the matrimonial home amounts to physical as well as mental cruelty. In the case of NG Dastane v. S. Dastane (AIR 1975 SC 1534), it was observed by the Court that “The inquiry, therefore, has to be whether the conduct charges as cruelty is of such a character as to cause in the mind of the petitioner a reasonable apprehension that it will be harmful or injurious for him to live with the respondent. It is not necessary, as under the English law, that the cruelty must be of such a character as to cause 'danger' to life, limb, or health or as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension of such a danger. Clearly danger to life, limb or health or a reasonable apprehension of it is a higher requirement than a reasonable apprehension that it is harmful or injurious for one spouse to live with the other.” An act of cruelty by the husband or in-laws is punishable under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
- Desertion: If upon removal of the married woman from the matrimonial house, a period of two years has passed, then the woman may seek remedies against the husband on the grounds of desertion. Desertion must happen for a deliberate and unjustifiable cause, without the consent of the deserted spouse with an intent to end the marital relationship.
- Restitution of Conjugal Rights: Where the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is applicable, a petition of restitution of conjugal rights may be filed by the married woman under section 9 of the Act in order to claim her conjugal rights, which include the right to cohabitate or reside together.
- Dissolution of Marriage/Divorce: Upon removal from the matrimonial home, the married woman can seek dissolution of marriage or divorce from the husband on the grounds of physical or mental cruelty inflicted upon her by the actions of her husband.
- Criminal Proceedings: If a married woman has been removed from her matrimonial home or forced to leave as a result of dowry demand, domestic violence, or any kind of physical or mental cruelty, she may initiate criminal proceedings against the husband and/or her in-laws under the DV Act, 2005, Dowry Prohibition Act, or Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
A married woman has several rights which includes the right to reside in her matrimonial home along with her spouse. A woman who is aggrieved of removal from matrimonial home can therefore, resort to various remedies which include initiating civil as well as criminal proceedings. These may include proceedings for restitution of conjugal rights, divorce, or criminal proceedings against dowry demand, cruelty, or domestic violence.
This blog is written and published for informational and awareness purposes only. If your matrimonial rights have been infringed and you want to get specific advice about the remedies available to you, connect with a lawyer or legal expert to address your concerns. This blog must not be treated as legal advice in any scenario.