Lockdown impact: Within the midst of job losses, wages are lower

An actor who paid his ex-wife and son alimony of 70,000 rupees a month was unemployed during the lockdown and has expressed that he cannot even pay half the amount while his income has been reduced to zero.

As job losses and wage cuts raged across all sectors during the four months of the city’s lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, family court lawyers received calls from clients seeking court intervention to waive or cut child support payments Wives and children.

An actor who paid his ex-wife and son alimony of 70,000 rupees a month was unemployed during the lockdown and has expressed that he cannot even pay half the amount while his income has been reduced to zero.

“The woman is a journalist and has a steady snack, even if there may be wage cuts, but in his case his income has been reduced to zero. First he called me and said he could pay 30,000 rupees in maintenance and now he says he can’t even afford it because he had no income during the months of the lockdown, ”said Vandana Shah, attorney for the family court. She said her client asked why he should keep paying this amount for daily needs when paying for the child’s school fees, extracurricular activities and travel abroad.

A large number of divorce cases filed with the Bandra Family Court are contested for maintenance payments or arrears recovery. Although there is a tendency to avoid paying alimony to the wife, lawyers from family courts said that in such cases, the courts have, for the most part, been strict and ensured that the woman received her payment, be it in the event of a divorce or domestic violence.

In view of the pandemic and the resulting job and income losses, however, the courts must also take into account a new issue when deciding on maintenance disputes.

Shah said during the lockdown, even the Bombay Supreme Court granted relief to a man who was unable to pay the temporary alimony because he had lost his job. The court reduced the maintenance amount, she said.

“It only gets worse because the judges have also become very frugal considering the pandemic and people have lost jobs, they are not getting jobs back,” said Shah.

During the month-long lockdown, the family court worked with 15 percent staff. While all judges continue to listen to cases online, cases are prioritized according to urgency. The 14 marriage counselors assigned to the court also carry out their work via video conference. Petitions are filed online and given a token number for the next day to submit documents for review. A check-in counter has been set up outside and none other than staff and lawyers are allowed into the building, which follows a strict disinfection protocol, a court official said.

While family court attorneys have already drafted preliminary motions in cases where a request is made for an exemption or reduction in maintenance amounts, in such cases they would have to make a preliminary motion citing “changed circumstances” and asking the court to review its earlier application in which the maintenance sequence can be transferred.

“I got a call from a banker who said he could no longer pay the same amount of child support that he paid because he had to accept a cut in his salary. For an employee it is easier to prove the decrease in his income with a wage slip, for entrepreneurs it is more difficult. As in the case of a restaurateur, he has to prove that the restaurant was closed for so many months and he had no income, ”said Kadam.

This is an “obvious consequence” of job losses and wage cuts, said lawyer Amit Karkhanis. “As soon as the courts are fully reopened, there will be several requests to change the maintenance amounts. They will all seek a reduction in alimony that may be proportional to the husband’s income. However, this can be tough on women, ”said Karkhanis.

Women’s rights attorney Veena Gowda said the pandemic and job loss could just be another excuse for men trying to evade alimony payments. The situation will have a greater impact on economically disadvantaged women. She said courts need to step in to provide some sort of immediate relief for women. This is also a good time to rethink marriage law.

“We really tend to ignore patriarchy when we look at this concept of ‘family’. When we see cases pending before the family court, many of them are pending recovery of (maintenance) arrears. Even in the middle class, upper middle class, it becomes an excuse not to pay and harass the woman. They know the courts aren’t going to do much now because their matters aren’t that urgent, ”Gowda said.

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