What is a shared house­hold?

Under the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act, 2005, a woman in­volved in a mar­i­tal dis­pute has the right to live in her es­tranged hus­band’s house. Such homes are con­sid­ered to be ‘shared’

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The in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage is con­sid­ered sa­cred in In­dia since time im­memo­rial but the changing so­cial and fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment has led to an un­for­tu­nate rise in cases of mar­i­tal dis­cord. The un­der­ly­ing causes of dishar mony have re­sulted in dis­putes be­tween cou­ples t hat come up f or con­sid­er­a­tion i n courts, seek­ing re­lief under var­i­ous l aws. The Pro­tec­tion of Women from Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act, 2005, (‘Act’) is one such Act which gives the right to an ag­grieved woman to re­side in her matr i mo­nial home or s hared house­hold. Under this Act, such right to seek res­i­dence is ir­re­spec­tive of whether or not the woman has any ti­tle or rights in such a home or house­hold. There­fore, for an ag­grieved woman to suc­cess­fully as­sert her right of res­i­dence, it be­comes im­per­a­tive to un­der­stand the mean­ing of a shared house­hold.

A shared house­hold is one where a woman in­volved in a mar­i­tal dis­pute re­lated to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­sides. Such a house­hold may jointly be­long to the man she has been mar­ried to. It could also mean a house which has been rented by the dis­put­ing cou­ple.

How­ever, shared house­hold has been mis­un­der­stood on sev­eral oc­ca­sions whereby the prop­erty of the hus­band’s par­ents has been wrongly cat­e­gorised as shared house­hold. Nu­mer­ous cases have come up in courts where the es­tranged wife claimed the right of res­i­dence in the shared house­hold even though the house in ques­tion be­longed to the fa­ther-in-law or mother-in-law. While de­cid­ing one of the cases, the Supreme Court of In­dia has held that the wife is only en­ti­tled to claim a right to res­i­dence in a shared house­hold. A shared house­hold refers to the house be­long­ing to or taken on rent by the hus­band or the joint prop­er­ties in which the hus­band has a share. The Supreme Court also held that the rights which may be avail­able under any law can only be against the hus­band in­volved in the mar­i­tal dis­pute and not against the fa­ther- in- law or mother-in-law.

In a re­cent judg­ment, the Delhi High Court also held that the daugh­ter-in-law has no right to con­tinue to oc­cupy prop­erty self-ac­quired by her par­ents-in­law against their wishes more so when her hus­band has no in­de­pen­dent right therein nor is living there, as it is not a shared house­hold within the mean­ing of the Act. How­ever, the wife is en­ti­tled to claim a right in a shared house­hold which means a house be­long­ing to or taken on rent by the hus­band or a house which be­longs to the joint fam­ily of which hus­band is a mem­ber.

The daugh­ter- in- law can­not as­sert her rights, if any, in the prop­erty of her par­entsin- law wherein her hus­band has no rights, ti­tle or in­ter­est. She can­not con­tinue to live in such a house of her par­ents-in­law against their con­sent and wishes.

The judg­ment has said that there is no obli­ga­tion on par­entsin-law to pro­vide res­i­dence to their daugh­ter-in-law un­less it is a shared house­hold.

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