Maintenance of Widowed Daughter-in-Law

Law
22-Jun-2023
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Fundamentally, maintenance refers to assisting someone unable to care for and sustain themselves. Due to limitations and diminutions, they encounter in society, women are mostly in India unable to maintain and sustain themselves alone after a divorce or the death of a husband. To make this easier for widowed women, the parliament has established a law on the subject. The law of maintenance is governed by the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956.

Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA), Section 19. The bereaved Hindu wife is entitled to maintenance from her father-in-law under Section 19 of the HAMA to the degree that she cannot support and maintain herself from earnings or property.

Can a widow claim maintenance from her in-laws?

The widowed daughter-in-law is entitled to maintenance from her father-in-law under Section 19(1) of the HAMA if she is unable to support and maintain herself from her income or estate, has no estate of her own, or is unable to secure maintenance from the property of her husband, her mother, or her father. However, Section 19(2) of the HAMA specifies that the responsibility outlined in Section 19(1) is no longer enforceable if the father-in-law is unable to support the widowed daughter-in-law from his property. The widowed daughter-in-law's maintenance rights would also expire following her subsequent marriage.

Legal Framework

Section 19 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, talks about the Maintenance of a Widowed Daughter-In-Law, and states that,

“(1) A Hindu wife, whether married before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be entitled to be maintained after the death of her husband by her father-in-law.

Provided and to the extent that she is unable to maintain herself out of her earnings or other property or, where she has no property of her own, is unable to obtain maintenance-

(a) from the estate of her husband or her father or mother, or

(b) from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate.

(2) Any obligation under sub-section (1) shall not be enforceable if the father-in-law has not had the means to do so from any coparcenary property in his possession out of which the daughter-in-law has not obtained any share, and any such obligation shall cease on the remarriage of the daughter-in-law.”

This section, stipulates that the Hindu wife should be cared for by her father-in-law after her husband has passed away, regardless of whether she was married before or after the act was carried out. This, however, is not enforceable if the widow is capable of supporting herself or if the father-in-law is not in a position financially to do so.

Additionally, the privilege is not valid if the lady receives maintenance from her late husband's or her parent's estate. The mother is also ineligible for the benefits of this section if she receives maintenance from her daughter, son, or property. Women who have remarried are likewise exempt from this rule.

Under what circumstances can a widow claim maintenance from her in-laws?

A widow may, in certain situations, request maintenance from her in-laws under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956. The pertinent clauses are as follows:
 

  1.  Maintenance rights for widows: Section 18 of the HAMA states that any Hindu wife, even a widow, has the right to maintenance from her husband while he is alive. She has the right to maintenance from the spouse or his estate if he doesn't pay it.
     

  2. No separate claim against in-laws: A widow is not allowed to make a separate maintenance claim against her in-laws under the HAMA. Her husband or his estate bears the principal liability. Unless they inherited the husband's property and have sufficient resources, in-laws are not required by law to support the widow.

  3. Liability of in-laws: If the in-laws have inherited the husband's assets and are financially secure, they may be morally obligated to provide for the widow. However, the husband's estate is primarily responsible legally, and his property can be used to pay for maintenance.

  4. Exceptional Circumstances: In unusual situations, the widow may ask her in-laws for maintenance if the husband's inheritance is too small or insufficient to cover her maintenance. If the in-laws have significant resources or assets and the widow is unable to support herself, this may be an option.

It's crucial to remember that, depending on the jurisdiction and court decisions, the precise circumstances and the interpretation of the law may change in a subjective case-to-case scenario.

Factors Considered in Maintenance Claims

Section 18 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956, is the key section that governs maintenance claims. The court takes into account several considerations while deciding maintenance claims, including:

  • Status and Position: The court takes the parties' positions and statuses into account. This comprises the claimant's and respondent's financial resources, social standing, and way of life.

  • Income and Property: The court weighs the claimant's and respondent's assets, income, and real estate. This covers their earning potential, financial investments, and other assets.

  • Standard of Living: The court considers the lifestyle the claimant was used to leading throughout the marriage. It takes into account the claimant's way of life, conveniences, and comforts before the conflict or separation.

  • Age and health: The claimant's age and state of health are taken into account when assessing their ability to support themselves financially and earn a living.

  • Financial Needs: The court determines the claimant's financial needs by evaluating variables such as his or her need for food, clothes, shelter, education, medical care, and other necessities.

  • Maintenance of Children: The court takes into account the claimant's financial obligation to provide for their children's needs, including their education, well-being, and general upbringing.

  • Reasonable Expenses: The claimant's reasonable court costs, such as attorney fees and other associated expenditures, are taken into account by the court.

  • Other Relevant Factors: The court may also take into account any additional relevant factors that may come up throughout the proceedings and have an impact on the decision regarding maintenance claims. 

Depending on the unique circumstances of the situation, these elements may change, and to ensure fairness and equity in the maintenance order, it's crucial to understand that the court has the discretion to determine the amount of maintenance based on these considerations and the overall merits of the case.

The process to claim Maintenance from In-Laws

The process to claim maintenance is quite straightforward,

  • Application - First a petition or application is required to be filed for maintenance which should include all the personal relevant details.
     

  • Issue - When the Family Court scrutinizes the petition, a notice is issued.
     

  • Appearance - The parties are then directed to appear in the Court.

  • Reconciliation - In case the reconciliation proceedings have already been conducted then the petition is moved to the family court on merits.

  • Reply - The opposite party is required to file a reply thereafter, and both parties require to file their detailed income affidavit to evaluate the capacities and liabilities.

  • Interim Maintenance - The interim maintenance is decided upon at this stage.

  • Evidence - Evidence is brought into the process, and has to be taken in the presence of a person against whom the maintenance is to be ordered, and the evidence is being led with the filing of relevant documents, papers, and summoning of all the witnesses. Note - In case a part willfully avoids summons then the ex-parte evidence is taken upon in the case.

  • Arguments - The arguments are made from the sides.

  • Order - The Court passes an order whether allowing or dismissing the petition, along with the details of the amount to be paid every month if allowed.

Thereafter, the proceedings go on, and the court orders the maintenance. Further, it is to be noted that even dealt with in Section 126 of the Cr.P.C. claiming maintenance from in-laws involves understanding legal provisions and seeking appropriate legal counsel, such as consulting with a family lawyer.

Case studies and important judgments by the court

Here are a few case laws related to the maintenance of a widowed daughter-in-law,

Smt. Balbir Kaur v. Harinder Kaur - Women need to be empowered because they have always been oppressed, and the aforementioned legislation achieves this goal and is recognized legally in the case.
 

Mishra v. Smt. in Raj Kishore - This does not, however, imply that the widow can abuse the protected right. The court ruled in the case, that if the father-in-law lacks the means to place his daughter-in-law in the custody of any coparcenary property of which the daughter-in-law has not gained any part, he is not obliged and the right is not actionable.

S.V. Parthasarathy Battachariar and others v. S. Rajeswari and others - In the case, the court stated that if the widow's husband cannot be located for more than seven years and is assumed to have passed away, the father-in-law is liable for providing financial support for the widowed daughter-in-law's care. In a different recent instance, a family court here upheld the widow's right to request maintenance from her father-in-law if the defendant has the self-acquired property of her deceased husband.

Hari Ram Hans v. Smt. Deepali & Ors. - The Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled in the case that under section 19 of the HAMA, the term "widow" would also include any minor children residing with her who are entitled to maintenance.

Smt. Raina v. Hari Mohan Budhaulia - The honorable Allahabad High Court ruled in the case that the widowed daughter-in-law petitioner and her two minor daughters are also entitled to maintenance from her father-in-law because she was unable to support herself and her daughters and the father-in-law had the necessary resources to support her as well as her two daughters.

Animuthu v. Gandhimmal - According to the decision in the case, a widow who marries again is still entitled to a portion of her first husband's intestate estate. The father-in-law's obligation terminates when the widow remarries. She still has the option to claim coparcenary property in her husband's name or to get a piece of his separate property.

 Mohd Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum - Justice Y Chandrachud bemoaned the appellants' tough approach in the case, which sought to eliminate the right to preservation for women who are unable to preserve themselves. Such clauses have been inserted to ensure that they meet the requirements of those being controlled. The Laws protecting widows are neither overly biased nor overly lenient towards the surviving spouse's kin.

Kanailal v. Pushparani Pramanik - In the case, the Calcutta High Court ruled that Section 19, sub-section (2) only applies to parties under the Mitakshara rule. The Dayabhag school of Hindu law does not have a problem with a widow inheriting her husband's portion of any coparcenary lands. Consequently, where the parties are followers of the Dayabhag school of Hindu law, the provision of sub-section (2) of Section 19 cannot be applied. However, regardless of whether it is governed by Mitakshara or the Hindu legal school of Dayabhag, sub-section (1) of Section 19 grants a widowed daughter-in-law the right to claim her father-in-law's maintenance.

Conclusion

Due to the limitations and restrictions women encounter in a mainly patriarchal society, Indian society is sometimes fragile and feeble. Because of this, women grow dependent and are unable to support themselves in the event of a divorce or a husband's death. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA), which governs a wife's and a widowed daughter-in-law's maintenance rights, was passed by the parliament in response to the aforementioned situation.

As Section 19 of HAMA further explains, the law's position on women's maintenance rights is clear. In cases where a widowed woman is unable to support and maintain herself after the death of her spouse, the law protects and secures her interests. According to the course of events, the father-in-law is obligated to support the minor children and the widowed daughter-in-law so they can support themselves.