New Delhi, January 23: Except for warring spouses, no relative can be dragged to a family court (FC) and the forum won’t entertain claims on property owned by in-laws.
In a significant judgment on Thursday, the Delhi high court explained the role and powers of FCs. It also made clear whether a daughter-in-law [in one case] has rights over a property owned by her widowed mother-in-law.
The court ruled that a partition suit filed in a civil court by Manita Khurana against her mother-in-law Indra Khurana can’t be transferred to the FC. Manita is fighting to get a divorce from her husband in a Delhi family court.
A bench of justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw disposed Manita’s appeal against the civil court’s order refusing to transfer the property case to FC and said she can’t use the family court to get relief. Indra had said that the house doesn’t belong to her son as she is the owner.
So, not only can his wife not sue Indra for the property, she cannot take the case to a family court. Manita’s counsel, however, disputed Indra’s claim. He said the daughter-in-law can claim rights to the house on the basis of a marriage. If rights come from being in a marriage, then the FC should have exclusive jurisdiction.
Though the word “family” hasn't been defined, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are family and the FC alone should have exclusive jurisdiction, Manita’s counsel said.
To this, justice Endlaw recalled a Bombay high court judgment on the issue. Two years ago, the court (Rakhi vs Jayendra) held that the Family Courts Act is a special legislation that creates a forum for effective enforcement of existing rights of spouses. It can’t be construed to “bring within its jurisdiction what was not intended”.
In the Bombay HCcase, a father-in-law had filed a suit restraining his daughter-in-law from entering his house. The court said the issue was beyond the ambit of FC.
“The claim of a third party to a marriage, even if she is the mother of a spouse, cannot be adjudicated before the family court,” justice Endlaw said.
The HC said the FCA doesn’t show that the “legislature thought about depriving the owner of the property just because the claimant was her daughter-in-law”. “The interpretation does not permit FCs to have jurisdiction over the suit,” the court said.