Is second wife entitled for share in Property?

Recently, the Bombay High Court was sized with an interesting case. Two women, both claiming to a wife of assistant Sub Inspector, who died of COVID-19 laid claim to the compensation amount. The state government’s resolution promises a compensation of Rs 65 lakh to police personnel who die of COVID-19 while on duty.

Later, Shraddha, Hatankar’s daughter from his second wife, approached the Bombay High Court, seeking that she be given a proportionate share of the compensation amount to save her and her mother from “starvation” and homelessness.

The bench led by Justice Kathawalla was hearing a petition filed by the second wife of Suresh Hatankar, an assistant sub-inspector in the Maharashtra railway police force who died of COVID-19 on May 30.

Hatankar’s first wife Shubhada and the couple’s daughter Surbhi, who were present before the court through video-conferencing, claimed they were not aware that Hatankar had “another family”.

However, Shraddha’s counsel Prerak Sharma told the court that Surbhi and Shubhada knew about Hatankar’s two marriages and they had contacted Surbhi on Facebook on previous occasions.

Sharma also said that Hatankar had been living with his second wife and their daughter in the railway police quarters allotted to him in Dharavi. The high court, therefore, directed Hatankar’s first wife and her daughter to file an affidavit, clarifying if they knew Hatankar had two families.

Hatankar married for the first time in 1992 and his second marriage took place in 1998.

Shraddha told the court in her plea that both the marriages were registered with the Registrar of Marriages and under the Hindu Marriage Act.

She claimed in her plea that being the child of Hatankar’s second wife, she too had the right to family pension, and death-cum-retirement gratuity.

Therefore, she and her mother should get equal proportion of the compensation disbursed by the state government and the Railways.

After hearing the plea and submission of government counsel, the High Court on Tuesday said as per law, if a man has two wives and both lay claim to his money, only the first wife would be entitled for it but his children from both marriages would get the money.

The court said, “The law says that the second wife might not get anything. But the daughter from the second wife, and the first wife and the daughter from the first marriage will be entitled to the money.” 

What happens when two wives claim the share?
In a recent judgement, by Madhya Pradesh High Court too, the right of the first wife was upheld.

Sheetaldeen (husband) was deserted by his first wife Sukhrana Bai and thereafter he married Vidyadhari with whom he had four children. Sheetaldeen had made Vidyadhari his nominee and all benefits that came out of his employment was reserved for her. She could also claim succession certificate for her four children. However, when both wives filed succession certificates, after Sheetaldeen's demise, while the trial court was in favour of the second wife, the Madhya Pradesh High Court favoured the first wife.

On further appeal, it was decided that the first wife would be given one-fifth of the property share. The four children too got their legitimate share but the second wife had to forgo her share because, in the eyes of the law, Sukhrana Bai was the legitimate wife who was not divorced before Sheetaldeen remarried.

The property rights of the second wife
Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, specifies that at the time of marriage, none of the parties should have a living spouse. Therefore, if this condition is not met, the second wife does not have the right to claim any share in the property of the husband.

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