Muslim Women: Laws on Rights to Maintenance
Muslim women are entitled to maintenance under Muslim personal law as well as the Protection of Rights on Divorce Act, 1986. To a layperson, what does ‘maintenance’ really mean? Simply put, when a couple divorce, the husband is legally bound to provide for the expenses of the wife and children, which is called as ‘maintenance.’ It must, however, be noted that a Muslim wife is only entitled to maintenance so long as she is faithful to her husband and obeys his ‘reasonable’ orders. Moreover, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 enables a Muslim wife to seek dissolution of marriage on the ground of failure to provide maintenance.
Maintenance for Muslim Women: Stipulations of Iddat
The Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act (DMMA) states that a Muslim husband is entitled to maintain his wife only up to the period of iddat. Based on the Shariat terminology, iddat is the mandatory waiting period for a divorced or widowed Muslim woman, which must conclude and thereupon, she can remarry. Once the period of iddat is over, the Muslim husband’s liability of maintenance ends as well.
The period of iddat is three menstrual cycles or three lunar months after a divorce. However, if a wife is pregnant at the time of the divorce, the period of iddat extends up to the time of delivery (or abortion), even if the event takes place after three months. However, if the delivery takes place before three months, iddat terminates immediately with the event.
Entitlement to Maintenance by Muslim Woman in a Polygamous Marriage
Several schools of Islam permit Polygamy but section 125(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure entitles a Muslim wife to live separately and receive maintenance from her husband if he contracts a second marriage or even keeps a mistress. This provision, incorporated in 1973, is a big step towards integrating modern ideas in the Islamic personal and family laws.
Most important to note is that this code has been made in full consistency with the spirit and tenor of Mohammedan Law. The code continues to entitle a Muslim husband to have multiple wives, while enjoining him to accord equal treatment to all his wives.
A question arises here is as to whether a Muslim woman who has filed for divorce under the DMMA would be entitled to receive maintenance under the Code of Criminal Procedure?
The court has established that a Muslim woman is entitled to receive maintenance under the code despite filing for dissolution of marriage, established under Zohra Khatoon v Mohd Ibrahim.