Mumbai: More than 20 years after a Ratnagiri couple got divorced, the Bombay high court has given the man the right to claim the property he had bought for his former wife in happier times.
“The husband had purchased the property in the name of his wife with his own money and, therefore, she was only [the] benamidar, or the ostensible owner, while the husband is the real owner,” justice JH Bhatia observed in his order last week. Since the husband bought the house in 1981, the transaction was not barred by the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, which came into existence in 1988.
Family court advocate Kranti Sathe said the ruling would affect many couples who buy property jointly. “The court has tried to strike a balance — the wife is entitled to maintenance after divorce, but even the husband has not been denied the property that he purchased with his hard-earned money,” Sathe said.
This means if a spouse cannot prove to have bought the property with his or her own money, he or she may lose the right to claim it, Sathe said.
In this case, Jayant and Sonali (names changed) were married in 1979. In January 1981, Jayant said he bought the property worth Rs5,000 in Ratnagiri in Sonali’s name out of “love and affection”. He said he had paid for it after securing a bank loan of Rs1,500 and using savings from his salary, which was Rs350 per month at the time.
In 1984, after their relationship soured, Sonali moved out of Jayant’s home and started living separately with her parents in Kolhapur. In 1993, the trial court held that Jayant had paid for the property and it was not bought for the benefit of his wife.
Sonali challenged the decision before the high court, claiming she had paid for the property from the money her “rich” father had given her and the scholarship she earned as a student of biochemistry.
Justice Bhatia, however, observed that there is “no material to show” that Sonali had received “any funds, either from her father or any scholarship”, to purchase the property.
The court said it was “logical and reasonable” for Jayant to buy the property in Sonali’s name when they were married and living cordially. But after their separation, when Jayant’s first claim was allowed by the court in 1989, Sonali made no attempt to claim the property.
The court dismissed Sonali’s appeal and permitted Jayant to claim the property that was rightfully his.
Neelofar Akhtar, member of the family court bar association, said the ruling assumes importance as there are not enough provisions in law to deal with property disputes arising out of divorces.
“The woman has the right to alimony after divorce but if she claims property also, what remains with the man?” said Akhtar.
Family court lawyer Kranti Sathe said sometimes men may buy property in the wife’s name for tax benefits and sometimes women may end marriages too soon to get a “back-door claim” to the man’s property.
Sathe said the length of marriage is also crucial while deciding such cases.
But divorce cases are very delicate and tricky as they differ from couple to couple and it is difficult to apply anything as a blanket rule, Sathe added.