Concept of maintenance under Hindu Law

Author-Jyotika Aggarwal, [Army Institute Of Law, Mohali]

The term maintenance basically means to give a certain amount to persons one is liable to maintain for the latter’s need for basic living standards. Under modern Hindu Law, the liability to maintain comes under three heads which are as follows:

  1. The personal obligation to maintain one’s wife, legitimate or illegitimate children and aged or infirm parents;
  2. The obligation to maintain the dependants of another whose property has been inherited by him; and
  3. Liability of joint family to maintain its members irrespective of the fact whether it owns property or not.

Meaning of Maintenance under Section 3(b)

The term “maintenance” has been defined in Section 3(b) of The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956. Any person under an obligation to pay maintenance to another person must include in the ambit of “maintenance”, basic necessities such as provision for food, clothing, residence, right to education and medical attendance along with treatment. The father of an unmarried daughter is responsible for not only working out the day to day expenses but also to bear the expenses of her marriage.

Maintenance of Wife under Section 18

The doctrine of maintenance under Section 18(1) of wife sprang from her matrimonial tie which obligates the husband to maintain the wife during his lifetime irrespective of him possessing any property. The obligation of the husband to maintain the wife is by virtue of marriage, it is personal and arises from the very existence of a relationship between the parties.

Under the old law, the wife after marriage was obliged to live with her husband and was otherwise not entitled to maintenance unless she could prove a reasonable ground for living separately. Hence, grounds to claim separate residence have been provided in Section 18(2). In a suit for maintenance, the Court can adjust the quantum of maintenance to cover the expenses or rentals of separate living. Under Section 18(2)(a) a Hindu wife is entitled to live separately from her husband and claim maintenance if he is guilty of desertion, that is to say, abandoning her without a reasonable cause and without her consent or against her wish or willfully neglecting her. Under Section 18(2)(b) cruelty on the part of the husband so as to create a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the wife that it would be harmful or injurious to live with him is a reasonable ground for the wife to live separately and claim maintenance. The third ground under Section 18(2)(c) on which a wife can claim relief is if the husband is suffering from virulent (extremely harmful or dangerous) form of leprosy. Section 18(2)(d) provides for maintenance to wife upon a performance of bigamous marriage by the husband. If the husband brings home a second wife, the wife can withdraw from the matrimonial home as well as claim maintenance under this section. If the husband has multiple wives, all the wives can desert him and claim separate residence and maintenance. Under Section 18(2)(e) of the Act, the wife can leave the matrimonial house and claim maintenance if the husband has brought home another mistress or concubine, or on the other hand, is frequently meeting with the concubine at a place other than his residence. The last clause (g) under Section 18(2), provides for a situation in which the actions of the husband are not justifiable but are not covered under any of the sections given above. For example, where the conduct of the husband is blameworthy but it is not of the same magnitude such as desertion or cruelty. Under Section 18(3), the wife’s right to maintenance can be repudiated or disqualified if she is unchaste or if she ceases to be a Hindu by conversion to any religion. Here, unchastity of the wife does not a major cause for disentitling to a wife her right to maintenance. In fact, under the old law, even an adulterous wife was provided with a starving maintenance. Section 24 of the Act, will however definitely reject a wife’s maintenance right if she ceases to be a Hindu.

Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law under Section 19

Under Section 19(1) of the Act, it is the duty of the father-in-law to give maintenance to his daughter-in-law, in case his son passes away. He is obligated to maintain the wife of his deceased son so as to provide the basic standards of living. The proviso to Section 19(1) provides that the Hindu wife is entitled to enforce this right so long as she is able to prove that she is unable to provide for herself out of her own earnings or other property. She might also be unable to acquire any maintenance from the estate of her husband, or father or mother or from the estate of her son or daughter if any. Under Section 19(2) the obligation under this section shall not be enforceable if the father-in-law does not have sufficient means to do so from any coparcenary property (property in which the deceased husband had an interest as a joint owner during his lifetime) in his possession out of which the daughter-in-law has not obtained any share. Moreover, any such obligation will cease to exist upon remarriage of the daughter-in-law.

Maintenance of children and aged parents under Section 20

Under Section 20(1), a Hindu is bound to maintain his or her legitimate or illegitimate children and his or her aged or infirm parents during the lifetime, unless there was an agreement to the contrary. Since the objective of this provision is to preserve the child, the burden is on the father to prove in an action for maintenance, that there is no default on his part. Under Hindu law, a child has a right to maintenance, irrespective of being legitimate or illegitimate, on account of being Hindu. Under Section 20(2), the right of a legitimate or illegitimate child to maintenance subsists so long as the child is a minor. Upon attaining majority, any such right becomes unavailable. The obligation of a person to maintain her or her aged parent or unmarried daughter, under Section 20(3), extends so far as it is proven that such aged parent or unmarried daughter is unable to sustain himself/herself through own earnings or due to lack of any real estate or property in their name.

Maintenance of dependants under Sections 21 and 22

Under Section 21 of the Act, the following persons are dependants of a Hindu male or female:

  • His or her father.
  • His or her mother.
  • His widow (so long as she does not remarry).
  • His or her minor legitimate son.
  • His or her minor illegitimate son.
  • The minor son of his predeceased son.
  • The minor son of his predeceased son of his predeceased son.
  • His or her legitimate unmarried daughter.
  • His or her illegitimate unmarried daughter.
  • His predeceased son’s unmarried daughter.
  • Unmarried daughter of a predeceased son of his predeceased son.
  • Widowed daughter.
  • Widow of his son (so long as she does not remarry).
  • Widow of a son of his predeceased son (so long as she does not remarry).

Under Section 22(1), the liability of the heirs to maintain the dependants is out of estate inherited by them. This liability under Section 22(2) arises only if the defendant has not obtained any share in the estate of the deceased. Under Section 22(3) the liability of the heir is limited to contribute to the value of share or part of estate taken by him or her. Lastly under Section 22(4), if the heir himself is a dependant, his liability to contribute for the maintenance of or her dependants arises only if the value of a share of the estate inherited exceeds the value of maintenance which might be awarded to him or her.

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