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SC teeth for family courts

New Delhi, April 15: The Supreme Court has ruled that family courts across the country can decide on the properties of parties to a divorce case. The ruling gives a new dimension to the law relating to divorce.

In their April 10 judgment, Chief Justice V.N. Khare and Justices S.B. Sinha and A. Lakshmanan said the family court was set up for “settlement of family disputes”.

The reason for enacting the Family Court Act, they added, was to set up a court that would deal with disputes concerning the family by “adopting an approach radically different from that adopted in ordinary civil proceedings”.

“It is now a well-settled principle of law that the jurisdiction of a court created specially for resolution of disputes of certain kinds should be construed liberally. The restricted meaning would frustrate the object wherefore the family courts were set up,” the bench said while answering the question “whether the family court has jurisdiction to adjudicate upon any question relating to the properties of divorced parties”.

The question arose in a divorce case where it was argued that family courts could not adjudicate on properties of the divorced parties.

The apex court said the “statement of objects and reasons” of the Family Court Act “would clearly go to show that the jurisdiction of the family court extends, inter alia, in relation to properties of spouses or of either of them”.

This, the judges said, “would clearly mean” the properties claimed by the “parties thereto as a spouse of (the) other, irrespective of the claim whether (the) property is claimed during the subsistence of a marriage or otherwise”.

This means that properties claimed by the spouses while the marriage lasted and after the divorce could be adjudicated upon by family courts.

The apex court said the wordings in the Family Court Act — “disputes relating to marriage and family affairs and for matters connected therewith” — must be given a broad construction.

“The fact of the matter” in the instant case “clearly shows that the dispute between the parties to the marriage arose out of the properties claimed by one spouse against the other”, the court said, settling the issue that family courts had jurisdiction to decide on properties.

The court said the explanation appended to Section 7 of the Family Court Act “refers to a suit or proceeding between the parties to a marriage with respect to the property of the parties or of either of them”.

The court said family courts were established to provide and secure “speedy settlement” of disputes relating to marriage and family affairs and for matters connected therewith. The Act “seeks to exclusively provide within the jurisdiction of the family courts the matters relating to the property of spouses or either of them”, it added.

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