Supreme Courts view on Daughter in law’s rights in property under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
..The Hon’ble Supreme Court has clarified in its Judgement in “Satish Chander Ahuja Vs Sneha Ahuja” Civil Appeal No. 2483/2020. Supreme Court has held that daughter in law has rights in property of in laws subject to the house being a shared household in which the daughter in law has lived in a domestic relationship with the in-laws.
What is “shared household” as a daughter in law Rights in property?
The term has been defined under section 2 (s) of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence At, 2005 (“Act”). The right of residence under the Act to women ousted from the house has been envisaged qua “shared household” only. A shared household would mean a house in which the aggrieved person has lived or at any stage has lived along with the respondent in a domestic relationship.
A relationship between two members who have lived together on account of being related by consanguinity (by blood). Or two members who have lived together on account of being related by marriage. Also a relationship between two members who have lived together in a relationship of marriage.
What is the Right to residence in a “shared household” for a Daughter in Law Rights in Property?
The Supreme Court vide the above captioned judgement has categorically overruled its earlier views observed in “S.R Batra Vs Taruna Batra, (2007) 3 SCC 169” . It was held as wrong interpretation of section 2 (s) of the Act. In the said case the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that a wife is entitled only to claim a right to residence in a “shared household” under section 17 (1) of the Act, which would only mean the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband, or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member.
The implication of this observation was that the mere factum of the spouses to have lived in the house exclusively owned by the husband’s father as gratuitous licence the property would not become “shared household” for the purposes of the Act.
Definitionof “Shared household” as interpreted by Hon’ble Supreme Court
The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the definition of “shared household” in the Act is exhaustive in nature and would cover only those households which are envisages under section 2 (s) of the Act. The Hon’ble Supreme Court after detailed analysis of the said term summarised that:
“….1. It is not a requirement of law that the aggrieved person may either own the premises jointly or singly or by tenanting it jointly or singly; (ii) the household may belong to a joint family of which the respondent is a member irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has nay right, title or interest in the shared household; (iii) the shared household may either be owned or tenanted by the Respondent singly or jointly.
Legal Issues involved
A legally complicated problem arises, however, from the fact that the joint household, if it does not have to belong to or be rented by the husband or belong to a joint family in which the husband participates.
It includes all the dwellings that the couple has occupied in a domestic relationship of several years. It also includes the dwellings of relatives in which the couple may have stayed, as evidenced in many cases.
Therefore, it was only imperative to correctly interpret the phrase “the aggrieved person is living or has been living at any time….” as it appears in Section 2 (s) of the Act, in “Satish Chander Ahuja Vs Sneha Ahuja (Supra) in accordance with the intention of the legislature which restricts the common household in the context of the Act to the residence of the aggrieved person in the present or the residence in which he was residing with the respondent immediately before the reference to the court.
The ruling clarifies that the common household does not mean every single dwelling in which the aggrieved person lived with the defendant in a domestic relationship, as this would lead to chaos in society.
This ruling can now be invoked by litigants who apply under the law to remain in the home, even if it does not belong to the husband or is rented by him, or is part of a joint family to which the husband belongs. In my personal opinion, this is a welcome step, as it closes the loopholes in the definition that served as an instrument for refusing residence protection under the Act on the pretext that the flat belongs to the father-in-law or mother-in-law, in which the husband has no share.
However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has also laid stress that father-in-law or mother-in-law usually at the age of senior citizens have the right to live peacefully and not haunted by the marital discord between their son and daughter-in-law. Therefore, the Court is dutybound to balance the rights of the parties while deciding such applications.